Outside Review

London Horror Festival at The Pleasance – 20 – 21 October 2021


Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Willa hasn’t left her home for 30 years, as her parents have kept her safe from the bad outside. Surrounded by papers, books and boxes, Willa searches for “evidence” while an unknown man questions her at intervals over a tannoy system. She talks of the old house, the new house and “this place”, which is eventually confirmed to be a question room for children and vulnerable adults.

Written and performed by Gabrielle MacPherson, Willa’s a grown woman but has the energy and emotional outlook of a child after constant abuse and gaslighting in her family home, still keeping her kit ready for when she needs to be safe in the dark. She talks of the marks on her skin, always in places covered by clothes during the short time she attended school, almost poetically, and clings pitiably and desperately to the memory of art classes and making her teacher laugh. The “people with clipboards” who came to inspect their home when the school raised its concerns only trigger a swift move and an even more isolated life for Willa, and her narrative flits, birdlike across the years.

Having seen Outside online, I was intrigued to see whether the unsettling atmosphere would translate live on stage. As part of London Horror Festival, with a quick turn around between shows, the set cannot be as detailed and technical, but MacPherson’s performance becomes more intimate and personal as she looks audience members in the eye and reacts to their responses. Are we part of her fantasy world and the dreams she has now that she is an adult and can go out alone?

The details of Willa’s abuse are horrific, but never described in gratuitous detail, and this feels completely appropriate for Willa’s state of mind, brushing over them as she tries to prove “it wasn’t her fault”. The darkness in her seeps through when we see her satisfaction as her abuser harms the parent that always looked the other way. Recordings of her family and how they fight and demean each other add more clues to what is coming, but although the ultimate reveal about why Willa is in the room feels inevitable, the gory details will give you a jolt.

Gabrielle MacPherson is magnetic as Willa – portraying her damaged soul and mental instability brilliantly without ever becoming a caricature. Her writing is equally sympathetic and dynamic, with Rudzani Moleya’s movement direction adding to a deeply unsettling performance. Laurel Mark’s astute direction in this small space allows the dark tale to unfold at its own pace, never letting the tension dip in this deeply disturbing and mesmeric production.