Writer: Rosie MacPherson
Director: Ed Lilly
Reviewer: Rich Jevons
Rosie MacPherson writes and performs Strawberry Blonde Curls’ Inside, an intense and claustrophobic one-woman show at Leeds’ Holbeck Underground Ballroom. Right from the start MacPherson’s characteris clearly angst-ridden, although she attempts displays of ‘normality’ through domestic chores. She talks to Mel B the cat and the plant (an assortment of stalks), and then reads of the ‘awful things’ that happen ‘out there’ from a daily newspaper (though we doubt it is really today’s).
Faking joviality as she strips to her underwear to wash, full of Polanskian obsession and furtive worry. She regresses to her schooldays, her inner child running wild, but the noises (banging and rumbling) trigger a panic attack indicative of post-traumatic stress. She pretends herself out as a popular schoolgirl who excels at PE with an impressive cartwheel, but when this is acted out she suffers an excruciating pain.
The charactertakes us through her school timetable and writes a ‘Dear Diary’ which – like the video messages to her mother – are clearly taking place in a vacuum and full of delusion. The simple set, a dilapidated basement room, is framed by a door that shefears is set to electrocute her. But she does try to test these boundaries in her braver moments, only to go back to deeper paranoia and fear.
She dreams of romance with imaginary friends (we are unclear as to whether it is memories or daydreams) but the sense of isolation, agoraphobia and squalor prevails, her only off-stage interludes in a decrepit toilet. There are lots of Spice Girl references and MacPherson’s girlishness is thoroughly believable. It makes perfect sense for her to be both writer and performer as this is such an intrinsically personal piece of theatre. Not agitprop but underlined with a quiet anger.
What really makes it is that everything is implied, we never see ‘him’ or even know his name. The nature of the abuse is not disclosed, even the relationship with the mother is blurred and distorted; not concrete. There is mention of 3000-plus days of captivity from which she has plans to escape and ‘be me’, but this is all within the nightmarish world of her psyche, and not necessarily reality.
So we are left in limbo, with a disturbing uneasiness and unpleasantness that provides no easy answers but some fundamental questions. For each audience member these would be different but a way out is plausible – what if the character could become reconnected and all this madness simply catharsis?
Inside is a brilliantly scripted, superbly performed piece of art. Special thanks to Slung Low for their welcoming hospitality, making it feel more like a friend’s house than a theatre.