Livestreamed from The Space 18 – 20 February – book via space.org.uk/event/outside-livestream/
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Gabrielle MacPherson’s Outside is unsettling and unmissable. 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. On a wall above Willa a projection of her searching the room plays, not matching her current movements as 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. Her instinct to hide when we hear knocks on the door is shocking, as MacPherson instantly switches from childlike glee recalling a memory, to sheer terror cowering under the table.
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” – her satisfaction when her abuser harms the parent that always looked the other way. As Willa complains about unheard noises, the creeping sense that not everything in the chaotic room is real, but part of Willa’s fantasy world, builds – and 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, and Karis Crimson’s astute direction allows the dark tale to become increasingly disjointed and claustrophobic, even onscreen (it would probably set your skin crawling if we were actually watching inside The Space) with the creepiness of Laura Howard’s sound design and Ica Niemz’s set adding to the weird atmosphere.