Anna Weiss at the SpaceCultureTheatre
Operation Yewtree is surely to blame for the disproportionately large number of plays on paedophilia that this reviewer has seen of late. This one has a twist, however. How real are our memories it asks. Those fearsomely implicating and damaging accusations: how can we be sure they rest on facts and not fabrication? The past is a blurred place, after all, and memory an insufficient peephole.
It’s a script-centric play, which sees Mike Cullen’s rich, intelligent writing explore the phenomenon of False Memory Syndrome, whereby supposed victims of trauma fabricate events from their past that never happened, yet in which they strongly believe. Cullen read the popular American book A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Bass and Davis, which he describes as heartbreaking but also terrifying in its extremism.
In his play, written in the 90s, overbearing psychotherapist Anna Weiss has helped Lynn extract dark, forgotten demons from her past via hypnosis. David, Lynn’s father, is adamant that none of these memories are true.
Slow burning dialogue seething with subtext illustrates the fraught relationships between each party. Scenes dip and rise in tone, yet an angst-ridden fractiousness remains throughout, which begins to grate even before scene one concludes. The back and forth hen pecking and hands-clutching-temples of Anna and Lynn respectively gets a little monotonous, and you begin to long for a dialogue that doesn’t revolve around arguments. There’s a fair bit of humour to be found in the script that wasn’t successfully conveyed by the cast. Sandra Paternostro and Chloe Walshe give otherwise laudable performances but Charlie Haskins, who stepped in last minute to play David, doesn’t win our sympathies in the way he should, coming across a little wooden.
This production of Anna Weiss perhaps needs a little something else beyond script. Some more imaginative staging, for example, would have set it on fire. The theatre-in-the-round setting creates intimacy but the blocking is poor; you may find yourself looking at the actor’s back for a few minutes too long. Still, The Space, arched and high-ceilinged like a church, whose echoing acoustics lend an ominous gravitas, is a fitting location for the play.
Like the best theatre, the answers aren’t given on a platter. It’s not clear what Anna’s motives are or how innocent she actually is. Go and see it if you enjoy getting your teeth into evocative subject matter.
Anna Weiss is on at The Space until 13th September 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Anna Weiss here: