Moving Bella forward

After a lot of thinking, talking and researching it felt like time to get up and do something (about four months ago that is), and while we’ve had to slow down recently due to other commitments we’ve done a few really key things over the past few months which have moved the Bella project forward massively.

  • Found credible sources

I mentioned in a previous post just how much there is on the internet about Bella’s case – all you have to do is type in ‘Bella in the wych elm’ to see what I mean. While loads of those articles are really interesting and potentially useful, they are also conflicting and from sources impossible for us to verify. So we went looking for other sources at the Local Constabulary Archives in the Hive, Worcester. We hoped, as the murder happened near Worcester, that they might have something, articles from the time at least, about the murder. It turned out they had a lot more – the entire case file about the investigation!

While we can’t take any of the sources away we’ve begun to look at them and build up a picture of the investigation. We found police reports detailing the findings, the strange letters that Anne of Claverly (aka Una Mossop) sent to the papers, as well as Una’s police statement 10 years after the body was found, implicating her husband and Van Ralt in Bella’s death. We also found things we hadn’t found mentioned online already, such as an investigation into some travellers in the woods who the police believed might have been involved, and a very odd few letters from a medium to the police containing strange ‘songs’ about mermaids and fish.

Clearly the investigation was much wider and weirder than we ever imagined. The discovery of these sources also changed the direction of the piece we are creating. We had always wanted to focus on the real, but these sources allow us to bring the investigation that happened 70 years ago to the stage, and we have begun to build verbatim work on the reports and letters we have found, keeping the real words at the centre of what we do.

  • Thought about characters

There are so many characters we could potentially bring into this piece, and so many different versions of them presented across the internet and in different books and sources that it was really important for us to spend some time thinking about them and who we thought they were. While this exploration of characters is by no means over we made a great start with a workshop inspired by Laban’s Efforts. This was about physicalising the characters, and doing rather than thinking (as mentioned above this was a key part of us keeping up momentum and moving forward with this piece, as there is just so much to think about if we didn’t forcibly stop ourselves we’d get bogged down in the detail and never start creating anything).

Following on from that we also began to play with different scenes, for example one between Una and Jack Mossop, thinking about dialogue and narration. Something we want to bring into this piece is the dialogue you often get in a film noir, dialogue that doesn’t quite fit with what is happening on screen, or in our case on stage. So we played with this technique, and we will continue to look much deeper into dialogue and narration and how we can get both from the documents in Bella’s case file.

  • Found the focus

With so many potential events in our timeline (see previous post), it was difficult to see a clear focus, so we began to group events into four themes or strands.

Notes on the walls

The first and probably most interesting strand is that of the body being found, the physical findings, the police reports and the timeline of the investigation. We then thought about the strand containing Una and Jack Mossop and Van Ralt, which fit into the police investigation but there is still more to explore. Then we grouped Margaret Murray, the idea of witchcraft and Charles Walton (the man killed with a pitchfork and supposedly thought of as having connections to witchcraft). Again we still have a lot more to explore here, and I’m hoping we might find some sources on Walton’s case in the Hive too which will help us move this strand forward. Finally we have a strand which is the German spy theory, and the one which purports that Bella was actually the German singer Clara Bauerle. While we don’t give this theory much credibility (you can see Clara’s death certificate which states she died in Berlin here), it’s a theory which seems to have been widely believed and there are some interesting connections and moments we might want to bring into our piece about Bella.

Having those four key strands in mind has really helped us to think about the shape we want the piece to take and the focus for what we need to research and explore next. While we’re still very far from having everything figured out, we know what our next steps are.

  • Know what not to do

We’ve also found out what we don’t want to do, and by default, what we do want to do. While we were workshopping, playing with scenes and narration, it became clear that a play full of multi-roling, gender swapping (our cast is almost all female), and playing out of dramatic events which we’re not even sure have happened, definitely isn’t the way we want to go! Instead we’ve focussed in much more on the physical, on the source material, and on disjointed almost surreal ways of exploring what might have happened.

Rather than having one person who ‘is’ Una Mossop on stage, why not have five people building up a disjointed picture of who Una might have been. At this point, even with the sources from the case, it’s impossible for anyone to know who Una, Jack, Van Ralt, or any player in the case really were, all we have are snapshots built up from differing, sometimes conflicting sources and as a group we agreed that the built-up image of the character and events, especially when it is conflicting is really worth exploring and presenting on stage.


With all of the above in mind we’ve started creating different scenes, using the sources we have and exploring interesting visual representations of the events like using intricate hand movements to accompany narration, faces and bodies pushing through newspaper reports, projection and chalking on the walls. As ever if you have any ideas then feel free to comment below – Leah.

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