Anna Weiss, at the Whitehall Theatre
Mike Cullen's play is designed to shock. Taking as its theme child abuse - or perhaps more accurately, alleged child abuse - it examines what happens when a psychotherapist calls up the hidden horrors of an abused childhood. The theme of the play revolves around whether such events really took place.
It's taken some time for Anna Weiss to reach a London audience - it was first performed in Edinburgh in 1997. At that time, the debate about 'false memory' in child abuse cases had greater resonance following a well-publicised court case at the end of 1996. But, as Cullen's play points out, child abuse does not go away and this is an issue that can be endlessly debated.
There are, however, some oddities in Anna Weiss; not least the title. The play revolves around the memories of Lynn so why is the title that of her psychotherapist? It's David, Lynn's father and supposed perpetrator of the abuse, who points out some of the strange, unanswered questions in the play. Where does Lynn get the money from? After all, therapists aren't cheap. Why have Anna and Lynn moved in together, surely in breach of any psychotherapists' code? Possibly this could be explained if Anna and Lynn were lovers, but David's suggestion to that effect is angrily challenged.
At the end of the play, we're still left undecided as to whether Lynn or David is telling the truth. Perhaps this uncertainty reflects reality - it will always be difficult to say one way or another - but it's detrimental to the drama.
For their part, the actors are uniformly good. Catherine McCormack, although somewhat young to play the role, is a wholly believable Anna, and Larry Lamb is an emotional David, scarcely comprehending what is happening to him (there is one particularly effective speech where, in an attempt to show how people can remember things from way back, he frantically recalls what was in his room as a child, getting more emotional as each item is recalled). Best of all is Shirley Henderson's Lynn, in turn angry and vulnerable and with a mode of speech that hovers between that of child and woman, she makes one fully aware that this person is exceedingly unhappy while never giving away whether she really is the victim she says she is. It's a fine line to walk and Ms Henderson does it well.
The play is tightly directed by Michael Attenborough, lasting just 85 minutes but packing an emotional punch in that time. Nevertheless, the feeling persists that it is all a bit too glib. While there's probably a major play to be written on this subject, Anna Weiss, though a worthy attempt, isn't it. Still, in an age of musicals, it's reassuring to see that serious modern drama can still appear in the West End.