By Molly Knox
Wrong Tree Theatre Company’s ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ is an introspective murder mystery that examines what it means to be a victim. Breaking apart the public fascination with the unsolved and mysterious, this rip-roaring half-hour piece is profound, short and sweet.
Consisting of an ensemble of four, ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ twists its characters inside out, examining them and their motives for telling their ‘version’ of events. Led by an inquisitive Detective (played by Issy Flower) seemingly ready to examine this case at any cost to get to the bottom of it, the audience is asked to scrutinise their own interests and desire to become engrossed in the theatrics of the unknown. Flower’s desperation and fascination act as a tool of relatability for an audience who themselves might be guilty of conjuring their own fantasies and conspiratorial thrill.
Francesca Haydon-White’s direction and writing is sharp and self-reflective, leaning into a part of human instinct we choose to ignore to suit our entertainment. The whole production keeps the audience guessing between clever imagery driven lines in interrogations, investigations and desperate testimonies portrayed by skilful actors.
Wrong Tree delivers on its movement driven storytelling in fun and interesting ways, creating commentary on the power dynamics of pulling evidence together and retelling it for entertainment purposes. The elements of shadow puppetry and the almost spectral sense to the entire show are chilling and intriguing throughout, and the use of minimal yet inventive set keeps things interesting and effectual. The production team for ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ pull together a robust showcase of the acting and writing talent, stopping the technical aspects from treading on the other element’s toes.
Some more exploration of sound effects and music may have added more to make the piece feel livelier at points at the beginning of the performance but are welcome additions towards the second half. In fact, the lack of music up until this point makes it even more effective when it does kick in to change the tone and direction of the story. Dragos Farcas’ video editing is a lovely aid to this performance which uses its remote filming to its utmost advantage – driving home its points clearer than ever in the text and allowing for smooth transitions between scenes and creating direct and crisp confrontations with its audience. Furthermore, the cracked and surreal makeup on the actors who play characters in the surrounding theories about this unsolved tragedy adds a thoughtful detail to a show about just that.
Both Maddie Clark and Ollie Taylor perform interesting, and at times, almost ghostly portrayals of their respective characters which feel inward and emotional, reaching out to make the audience uncomfortable in the best way possible. The range of both actors is brilliant, and twist and turn as the developments in the mystery begin to unfold. Matilda Hubble plays a phenomenal Bella. Her gritty and emotional portrayal of our mysterious phantom picks apart a deep-seated quirk in the human desire to tell stories and glamourise or dramatize adversity. Although some of her monologues feel like they have slight writing and pacing issues, she resolves to tell Bella’s story right, in the most gut-wrenching way possible.
‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ questions fact from fiction, as well as who gets the power and ability to tell a story. Packing a bewitching and pensive punch, this is a tale worth telling and a play definitely worth seeing.
Image Credit: Wrong Tree Theatre Company