Gabrielle Brooks: 'Anna Bella Eema is a beautifully told story about women, growth, mental health and hope'

Gabrielle Brooks

Beginning previews tonight at the Arcola Theatre, Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D'Amour's Anna Bella Eema is described as 'Part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy' - Stranger Things on stage, perhaps. 

Directed by Jessica Lazar, the three-hander examines a mother-daughter relationship set against a spooky trailer park backdrop and the presence of a mysterious creation. 

Ahead of previews, we spoke to Gabrielle Brooks, whose credits include the musical Twelfth Night at the Young Vic and Lazarus at the King's Cross Theatre, to find out more about the show. 

Could you explain a little what Anna Bella Eema is about?

It's a dark coming-of-age fairy-tale about aspirations, getting older and mother-daughter relationships. It follows a young girl Annabella and her mother Irene, whose sheltered life is about to turn completely upside down when they meet Anna Bella Eema, shortly after the threat of the 'American Dream' looms over their trailer home.

And who do you play in the story, how does your character fit in?

Annabella, a precocious young girl who dreams of travel and adventure. She’s responsible for the creation of the mystery Mud Girl (Anna Bella Eema) who transforms their life forever. She probably knows far too much for her own good - courtesy of her Mother Irene - but only finds confidence and power in this fact until she is faced with the reality of life, it's changes, pitfalls and obstacles.

It’s described as a ‘Part ghost story, part fairy-tale, part coming-of-age fantasy’. What exactly does that mean?

The description of the events in the story are narrated by an imaginative and whimsical 10-year-old and her eccentric Mum. You can imagine that those sorts of characters make for one great coming of age story, a wonderful fairy-tale and as you'll see, part ghost story.

How has director Jessica Lazar approached the production? What can we expect?

The essence of a ghost and fairy-tale have been particularly big talking points for us in the rehearsal room. We have tried to stay as true to those descriptions as possible with movement or music and style of storytelling.

Is there anything particularly challenging about this show for you?

The whole show is a challenge, to be honest. The themes are very clear for an audience but the storytelling is very intricate. There’s a copious amount of script to learn which has been biggest challenge as it's only a three-hander. There is also a lot of song and all of it is acapella; close harmonies and choral singing without music makes for some tough learning, I must say.

Who do you hope will come and see the show, and what do you think audiences will take away?

We are three very different women in the show from three very different backgrounds so I would hope that encourages a variety of audience members. I love Dalston too. It's been near my home for most of my life and I would love this story which actually centres a lot around gentrification to be told to those who understand that first-hand.

If someone reading this could only see one show this year, how would you convince them to come and see Anna Bella Eema?

I think I could only say, “Come and see our kooky but heartfelt show”. It's a beautifully told story about women, growth, mental health and hope. It is sure to make you laugh and maybe even shed a tear. 

Anna Bella Eema is at the Arcola Theatre from 11th September to 12th October. 

Photo credit: Holly Revell

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