2 Oct, 2022 @ 13:48
2 mins read

British actress takes family tragedy to Spanish stage in stunning exercise of catharsis

A moment from the play 'Inanna'.

In 2018, British anarchist and activist Anna Campbell was killed in Syria by a Turkish missile strike. The 26-year-old had travelled to Rojava to fight against ISIS with the Kurdish YPJ militia. Four years later, her sister, actress Sara Campbell, stepped onto a Madrid stage to portray a version of herself in the play Inanna, which tells the story of Anna’s life, her death, and its consequences. 

“Anna believed in change,” explains Sara, speaking to The Olive Press from her home in Madrid. “She joined the female militia because she aligned with their beliefs, which are feminism, ecology and socialism. They believe that revolution is possible.”

After her death, Anna’s family began a campaign to get her body repatriated – a battle that has so far been unsuccessful. “We held a big demonstration in the centre of London, chanting, ‘UK government, bring Anna home!’” Sara explains. 

The idea for the play Inanna came from one of Sara’s best friends, María Caudevilla. Both Sara and María are members of the Baraka theatre company, which staged the production. 

The resulting play is an extraordinary exploration of grief and catharsis, made even more poignant by the audience’s knowledge that Sara is portraying a version of herself. We see sometimes-surreal scenes of the pair during their childhood, mixed with imagery of Little Red Riding Hood, wolves and a decimated forest complete with a bed of leaves.

Sara Campbell (l) with Kateryna Humenyuk, who plays Anna.

The script was written by Caudevilla based on news articles, letters and a book put together by Anna’s friends in the wake of her death. So how did Sara feel when she first laid eyes on it? 

“It took me a long time to read it. I was blown away by how much of real life she’d put on the pages of the script,” Sara explains. “A couple of months down the line I did say to María, ‘I don’t think I can do this. Every time I go into rehearsals I’m digging up  the pain.”

But speaking to her brother Adam helped crystalise matters for the actress. “He said, ‘I’m so proud of you for doing this play and I’m so happy that you get to connect with Anna on a daily basis,’ because he didn’t feel he was doing that,” she says. 

A documentary about Anna Campbell.

The play, which is in Spanish, was first staged in March in the Madrid region, and will be performed again in October (see below for information).

As if the emotional charge of the production was not already great enough, the premiere came at a difficult time for the young actress portraying Anna: Kateryna Humenyuk, who is from Ukraine. 

“Her world fell apart in the rehearsal process,” explains Sara, in reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We all just realised, this is real for her, this is her life and family. She sat down and said, ‘Today I feel like a Kurd’. She felt the injustice of what they were fighting for.”

An injustice that Anna Campbell would no doubt have been fighting against in some way had her life not been so tragically cut short.

‘Inanna’ will be performed on October 8 at the XXII Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro Contemporáneo de Almagro, at the Teatro Municipal de Almagro (Ciudad Real), and on October 15 at the Teatro Municipal de Tres Cantos (Madrid).

Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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