Irene Possetto’s one-woman play presents a young girl named Isabelle living a life of true tragedy in 1301. Isabelle takes the audience on her journey from a happy childhood in Berwick-upon-Tweed to a life riddled with grief and misfortune. She transforms into an almost unrecognisable woman; vicious and isolated in the German Black Forest. Through this progression, Possetto invites the audience to consider whether “evil” arises from nature or nurture.
I left the theatre as I entered: scared.
Before the play even started, I felt scared, sitting in a blackout for some time. A sinister voiceover opened the piece in darkness as Isabelle considers whether she actually belongs in hell; whether hell might have been preferable to her own pitiful life. The mother of the devil, soon-to-be incarnate, is subject to the dogma of 14th century Christian superstition. This felt similar to Salem’s Puritanical adherence to an extreme interpretation of the bible and witch-wary folklore in The Crucible. Patriarchal “divine punishment” governs her world, leaving her a brutally beaten victim predestined to disgrace.
Possetto wrote, directed and performed in the play. She is clearly an extremely able writer and actor, capturing a multitude of emotions Isabelle goes through, from youthful intrigue and hope to unrestrained, carnal desire as an older woman. Her performance at times had me immersed, such as when her misfortunes reach an unbearable climax after her fifteen-day travel from Scotland to Germany.
Yet the Berwick accent was undoubtedly absent. This wasn’t necessarily an issue, although I wonder if the play as a whole might have benefited from a non-descript setting, that subsequently would have complemented the intended fairy-tale atmosphere. I also felt there was room for more defined physical variation. Possetto might have benefited from an alternative perspective: a director. She swayed onstage to her central, onlooking audience, yet the moments when she moved for a reason were so much more powerful. This could be easily addressed. I also questioned: could the play adapt into an ensemble piece? Either way, the physical choices and blocking must be more defined.
The wonderfully written script was weakened only in the closing minutes of the play, with a near-random twist lacking clarity. Aside from the flyer, an audience member would be forgiven for feeling puzzled as to how Isabelle transforms so radically, with little explanation.
I left the theatre as I entered: scared. The last lighting state with Valentino Moser’s music frightened me. Did this made up for the radical leap that Possetto made in the closing minutes? In this single moment, the play embodied the “evil” it so desperately tried to display. As Anthony O’Hear noted: what can be wickeder than burning a baby on a bonfire? Watch her performance and you can make your own judgement.