Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm at the Space
Pregnant Fish Theatre presents Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, a play based on the real-life murder account of a woman in 1940s Hagley Wood, Worcestershire.
The show is written and adapted from archive sources by Leah Francis and director Tom Drayton, with a cast of five members who each perform a variety of roles, from mystified detectives to mysterious farmers with supposed secrets to hide. The piece revolves around the investigative reporting of the murder of “Bella”, the name proscribed to the body discovered by some children in a tree hole in the woods. The context is eerie, and as the play wears on, it gets more unnerving still, particularly when a reclusive older farmer named Charles Walton’s body is found killed in a gruesome manner, causing some to think the murder could be linked to witchcraft. Patrick McHugh’s interpretation of a man in a trance is particularly good, as he tries to find the identity of the murderer, along with Hannah Tate who gives a great performance in her role as historian and folklorist Margaret Murray.
The movements the cast create are arresting, but not enough to completely pull the whole act together seamlessly; there are highlights as with most productions, but the biggest contributing factor that lets this down is the verbosity of the script. Perhaps more could have been derived from the production, rather than cramming it all into a one-hour time frame – they even cover the story of German spy, Josef Jakobs, captured and the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.
The macabre tones are interesting, like the sepia image of the tree hole in the woods where the body was found, and the revelation that Bella’s bones went missing in a police station transfer, as well as the disturbed plot of land in which Walton was buried. It is clear the group invested a lot of research into their work for this play, but the lengthy monologues become hard to follow, also causing the actors to stumble over words, resulting in further confusion. A stripped-back piece, with haunting music by The Dagen-Smiths, Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm is fine as far as theatre by a young company goes and recommended to those in the Docklands area with an interest in folklore or historic true crime.
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm is at the Space from 13th until 17th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm here: