Writer: Gabrielle McPherson
Director: Laurel Marks
Events of the last couple of years have made the concept of staying at home and never going out rather more familiar than anyone would like. But Gabrielle McPherson’s Outside, performed by the writer, has an even more sinister reason than a mere global pandemic for its character to have an enforced lockdown for most of her life.
McPherson’s play starts with her character Willa scouring through boxes of her parents’ property, prompting reminiscences about life as a young girl. She and her brother Solomon experienced life with parents who seem incapable of loving each other or their children.
Gradually, Willa’s personality begins to emerge as something still unformed, as if stuck at the age at which she was taken out of school and kept at home, never being allowed out to stop “the bad” from getting to her.
McPherson’s script is sparing with the details, allowing a steady drop of hints as to the horrors to which Willa has been inflicted. As a performer, McPherson uses Willa’s childlike charm – and, on occasion, her obstreperous nature – to engage and draw in, eliciting sympathy while also not letting her character completely off the hook.
There is a distinct sense of Willa’s detachment from not only the world, but also from a sense of morals: her tale of finding a kitten and keeping it – hidden away from her parents, of course, lest they find out she might have briefly escaped the confines imposed upon her – seems sweet until her neglect of the sickly cat lead to the inevitable. Likewise, her behaviour at school is indicative of a young girl who has not learned right and wrong, and indeed may have learnt quite different lessons from her home life.
Any concerns that the grown ups may have had to her welfare are kept away from Willa, who recounts having to sit outside while teachers discuss her with her mother. Hints abound as to the real horrors; but Willa is an unreliable narrator, and what she works out for herself may be more unreliable still.
The difficulty in preparing a horror tale for the stage, especially with a single performer, is preventing the conclusion from falling into predictability, or from being signposted too early. McPherson’s work successfully sidesteps such pitfalls. McPherson’s work as both writer and actor contains enough diversionary matter to maintain interest until the play’s unnerving, horrifying conclusion.
Reviewed on 19 November 2021