Writer: Gabrielle MacPherson
Director: Karis Crimson
This would be a tough piece of work to chew on in the best of times. It’s gained extra gristle coming at us in the middle of a period of enforced isolation and social difficulties.
A dark story of abuse and neglect, violence and vengeance, it feels like a classic horror narrative that brings the viewer into the scene through making it disturbingly relatable. A likable character, and a sympathetic one, Willa guides us step by step through her sad past to lead us to a gruesome understanding and possible support for her twisted acts.
Unseen but heard from via voice recordings, Willa’s parents are the source of the abuse that leads to her broken mind. Convinced by her mother that anything outside the house is bad she looks to her room as a safe space, in spite of her mother also telling her she was “infecting the house and everyone in it.” Bit by bit we learn that Willa’s a fully grown woman, but she has never chosen what to wear or what to eat. Her story’s told through upsetting details – like describing the perverse logic of putting a sick kitten in the bin so her parents didnt know she had a kitten. She’s cut, beaten, burned and shamed – each revelation adding strength to the action she takes after reading that orphans are the heroes of their own story.
The empathy and understanding the audience develops for this victimised woman is the real force of the play. Writing and performing gives Gabrielle MacPherson control over how to frame the lifetime of abuse Willa has experienced, and the journey she goes through trying to come to terms with how she has taken action to end it. The writing is sharp, and delivered with an energy that becomes unsettling with the consistency of its twitchiness. It’s not the first story of a child locked away from the world, but it feels novel thanks to the perspective it puts on all the interactions Willa has outside the house and with members of the public as well as social services.
Performed live and using a theatre stage, again a novelty these days of online shows, we have a set we can get immersed in. It turns out we’re meeting Willa in the police interview room she’s been placed in, alongside documents and pictures from her past. It’s an intense visual, highly effective. There’s a number of cameras in play, which is welcome, but it’s distracting to have MacPherson addressing the wrong camera for chunks of it. Sound also is a challenge – while she plays recordings from a phone on stage, it’s dulled as it comes through the broadcast so becomes tough to follow.
Outside is the result of plumbing some dark spots in an imagination, and sharp, emphatic writing to bring it to life. It would be difficult and unsettling to watch at any time. But in the days when we too are bombarded with messages to be more careful and nervous of the outside than usual, it’s especially affecting.
Runs here until 20 February 2021