Gabrielle MacPherson’s first self-penned solo show, Outside is an unsettling play that grips throughout.
Willa hasn’t left her house in thirty years, her abusive father and manipulative mother hiding her away from society in order to ‘keep her safe’. But now she finds herself in a witness questioning suite surrounded by her parents’ belongings, desperately trying to find evidence to prove she exists.
Performed live and streamed from The Space, Outside is a tense play about abuse and neglect. As she’s questioned by an unknown man over a PA system, Willa slowly reveals her story, and little by little her dark past finally comes to light.
Director Karis Crimson lets the tension slowly burn as the play progresses and utilises technology throughout to help Willa tell her story. Willa, we discover, likes to record people, and so through the use of dictaphone recordings we hear from the other people in her life, for example her parents, their creepy friends. A small screen at the back of the screen shows footage of Willa looking through the contents of the room. While somewhat effective, the recordings aren’t always easy to hear over the live stream, and the screen is a little difficult to see clearly, and so their impact at times is somewhat diminished.
Ica Niemz’s set and costume design is particularly effective, giving hints about what’s to come. Willa is wearing a long blue shirt, dotted with blood stains, while the set features a desk heaped with papers, with boxes, books and the odd child’s toy scattered on the floor. At the back the wall is papered over with notes, almost resembling a smudged and overcrowded police evidence board. Laura Howard’s sound design does a great job of adding to the creepy atmosphere, increasing in prominence as Willa remembers the more painful moments of her childhood; and the final song, a distorted version of Please Mr Postman, won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Gabrielle MacPherson is mesmerising in her portrayal, bursting with energy as she utilises the stage and searches through the evidence. Willa reveals snippets of information about the abuse she endured at various moments through the likes of old letters and notes from school, and though the information she imparts is shocking and uncomfortable, due to her skittish behaviour before things get too dark she’s already moved on. She’s childish at times, reflecting the fact that she was treated into a child long into her adulthood; yet incredibly grown up at times, both when she reflects on what happened and even certain observations she’s had over the years (for example, knowing the difference between a man and a woman, not biological differences but differences in how they’re treated by society).
This feels a particularly relevant production too given the current pandemic, not only with the messaging that staying at home is safer, but with the sad fact that instances of child abuse soared during last year’s lockdown. Though the plot is in some ways predictable, the shocking way it is revealed is particularly clever. With an inspired script and an engaging performance by Gabrielle MacPherson, Outside is a dark and shocking play, and the suspense builds beautifully throughout to culminate in a chilling ending which will stay with you long after the show has finished.
Photo credit: Robert Thompson