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Edinburgh Fringe 2013


Strawberry Blonde Curls

Genre: Drama

Venue: Gilded Balloon


Low Down

Rosie MacPherson writes and stars in this bleak, powerful new play about a woman held captive for 12 years, who may be on the brink of escape.


While it is difficult and inappropriate to compare the experiences of people who have suffered different kinds of abuse, there is something especially harrowing about the ordeal faced by Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, who were each held captive by their kidnapper, Ariel Castro, for between nine and eleven years until their rescue in May this year. It rests in the indeterminate nature of their torment, and the strange and terrible psychological effects this can lead to. It’s this phenomenon that is explored by writer and performer Rosie MacPherson in this play about an unnamed young woman, kidnapped and held for 12 years, who develops Stockholm Syndrome. It is set at what seems to be a critical moment in her story, at which she may have the chance to escape.

MacPherson’s script does an excellent job of conveying the character’s perpetual anxiety, which has become fundamental to her experience of life. It flips to and fro between two mental tracks, situated in different time frames. In the present day, she talks to herself about her current situation, gradually piecing together the various ways her captor has manipulated her to keep her pliant. We learn he has told her the door out of her basement cell is electrocuted; that the video camera she is given is sending messages to her mother over the internet; and that he has to keep her there to keep other girls safe. 

It also becomes clear, though, that she is continually living out her last days of freedom: planning a school disco, meeting a boy she likes, setting up a Spice Girls tribute. As the story creeps towards the awful moment, it becomes difficult to bear, but worse is the clear impression that by having the rest of her development into an adult taken away, she has been permanently locked into mental adolescence. 

MacPherson’s performance is measured, sensitive and powerful, but can often seem a touch frantic, and could perhaps have been improved with some moments of darker resignation. It is a simple production, with a few clever devices, such as the continual background noise of a busy city street; it doesn’t dawn immediately, but the woman is agonisingly close to safety, and always has been. As the play nears the end of its running time, it seems she is finally ready to throw her chains, mental and physical – but has the whole process been part of the kidnapper’s game? This is truly impressive stuff, but only go if you are prepared to be utterly crushed, and more than once.