Fiona Doyle’s Abigail, a new show opening at the newly opened Bunker Theatre, is an enigmatic piece of writing. A two-hander based on the lives of the nondescript MAN and WOMAN, we see a coil of repressed issues, faltering romances and traumatic episodes played out in a non-linear way, stretched across the course of an hour.
WOMAN is a young, twenty-something – running, away from her life, escaping to foreign countries alone. MAN is a forty-something – travelling, apparently, for the sake of work. Beyond that we know very little about him; he seems to have a job, and also has a bucket list of places he always wants to visit. And diabetes. Interesting facets, no doubt, for the two characters, and just about enough to fill the allotted runtime.
If you’ve ever had the experience of watching a relationship come to an end and likened it to a car crash in slow motion, then Abigail is like watching that self same crash, except this time the car jumps back and forth between the beginning of crash, the middle, intensely personal, crash, and finally, a mortifying final bout of crash that wraps up the pair’s entanglement. For all of this sharp-edged drama, the most saddening thing about Abigail is how little of it seems to convincingly work – Doyle leaves vital, pressing issues – raw, vital in their implications, loosely connected, strung around characters that remain sketchily defined and often have motivations we can never really pin down.
What is more frustrating is that sometimes Doyle is capable of bringing interesting passages of text to the table – a monologue from WOMAN (Tia Bannon, given more to do here than her counterpart in Mark Rose) about a father removing his daughter’s splinter by sucking on her toe, for example, was a rich, powerful image that encapsulated some of the show’s key discussions. Beyond this however, it felt almost as though Doyle could have spent extra time devising, mulling over these figures and how to make their characters more distinct.
Direction from Joshua McTaggart was largely a static affair – each scene confined to a small part of the stage (delineating, to some extent, the different temporal contexts of the play). Max Dorey’s set, for all its fantastic boxes and use of perpendicular edges, became somehow visually unimpressive, a wash of whites and beiges that only in the final moments (using the theatrical trope of tiny illuminated houses, last seen by this reviewer in Groundhog Day, though before that in La Bossu) did a sense of ingenuity shine through.
Abigail was a play obsessed with a central idea – of how paternalistic love can easily transmute into a romantic context. Introducing a romance with a 20-year age difference is how Doyle chooses to explore the concept, and though somewhat obvious, there’re some legs to it. Fundamentally however, beyond this there is little to go on, with the characters seeming almost elusive, sometimes ill-drawn and underwritten.
Photos from Anton Belmonté.