It’s getting on for a year and a half since a wave of sexual abuse allegations were first made against American film producer Harvey Weinstein, which led to his disgrace and arrest – he is due to go on trial this spring. Following on from these allegations, the #MeToo hashtag reappeared and the Time’s Up initiative was set in motion. Liv Warden’s new play, Anomaly, looks at a fictional scandal and its effect on the women in the accused man’s life.
Philip Preston, a highly successful movie mogul, has been arrested on charges of GBH against his wife – the family immediately goes into PR mode, trying to play down the seriousness of the situation and what it says about the patriarch. Sisters Piper and Penny are on the front line, as their other sister Polly is still supposed to be in rehab, and is considered something of a loose cannon; Polly is closer to their mother, plus she harbours her own dark secret about Philip Preston that would have a devastating effect if it were revealed. Penny, a successful actress, goes on a charm offensive with a string of interviews & personal appearances, whereas Piper focuses on the business – all the while Polly’s on the loose, and doesn’t take long for the press to pick up on her explicit tweets and lack of sympathy for her father. But there’s one person who seems to have been forgotten: has anyone actually seen their mother since the attack?
Obviously when news stories like this break, the first people you think about tend to be the victim and the accused – it’s easy to forget that there are so many other people who are affected. That’s why Anomaly is rather intriguing, as it sees two of three daughters defending their aggressive, adulterous father (“family is first”), at the same time being belittled and objectified by the men they are surrounded by; only one of them seems concerned about their mother, though she’s battling demons of her own.
Whilst it’s understandable that the girls wouldn’t want anything to happen to their father, it’s rather shocking to watch the lengths they’ll go to in order to defend him – even seeming to blame their mother for what has happened. This makes Philip Preston’s absence more powerful, as the ripple effect of his actions (and the hold he has over his own children) comes into full force.
Of the three, it’s Polly’s arc that seems the most developed; her story is teased out, and we gradually learn about the events in her past that have shaped her. Piper’s marital problems could potentially be explored a bit more, and Penny’s status as a new mother doesn’t feel particularly relevant – though it might have had more bearing if a revelation about her that comes in quite late didn’t just stop short.
That being said, there are strong performances from Natasha Cowley (Piper), Katherine Samuelson (Penny) and Alice Handoll (Polly); between them they drive the story forward and keep the audience engaged at all times. Dressed in black (presumably as a nod to the Time’s Up black dress movement) they are bold figures on Charlotte Dennis’ stark white set, taking turns to have their moment in the spotlight.
My verdict? An important play that shows a different side to the #MeToo stories, and makes you think about the wider picture – the performances are all very engaging.
Anomaly runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 2 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.