By Isabella Fraser
Beautifully written and full of love, this production is an homage to playwright EmmaLeigh Rivera’s great grandmother, a woman who led a varied and colourful life, managing to not only be her own woman, but to raise Rivera at the same time.
Rivera plays herself in this piece, narrating the story of her Nan – as her great grandmother was known – and how she played a special role in Rivera’s life. Janice Isabel Jackson, who portrays Nan, also directs the piece.
As the audience enters, Nan is already seated on stage, knitting away: this becomes her space on stage. The entry of Rivera as a narrator directly addressing the audience works, because this brings a clear and easy indication of how the story unfolds. Rivera herself comes across as a sensitive and caring woman, with a great deal of love for her great grandmother with this show an act of love to her as family.
The strongest parts of Isabel(le) are where this simplicity is engaged to allow the text to clearly explain and deliver the unfolding story of Rivera’s Nan. Jackson portrays the larger-than-life presence of Nan in an extremely mannered way, making her seem two-dimensional, rather than a fully rounded person who happens to be full of confidence and strength. However, the text describes Nan in all her three-dimensional glory bringing alive her personality: a lively, feisty, headstrong but ultimately warm and caring being, It would have been interesting to hear more about why Nan – seemingly out of the blue – decided that the only method of survival was running a brothel for many years, rather than it being a footnote to the story.
Nonetheless, this production is worth seeing and deserves a bigger audience. It is a gentle and caring example of storytelling with humour flowing through it with a wonderful range of music punctuating the story, adding to the atmosphere. Isabel(le) is a good reminder that no family is perfect and that humans have a capacity to overcome many hurdles.
Isabel(le) runs until 18 August (not 14) at Greenside @ Infirmary Street @ 17:20. Running time is 50 mins.