The Bunker’s first season concludes with Fiona Doyle’s two-hander, Abigail. Although why it’s called Abigail is an intriguing question, since the two characters in the play remain nameless throughout. It’s a dark tale about a dysfunctional, abusive relationship – but in a welcome challenge to convention, here it’s the man who’s the victim, struggling to find his way back to who he was before they met.
It all starts well: after meeting in the snow outside Berlin Airport, the couple embark on a whirlwind romance. He’s quite a bit older than her, but their attraction is instant and intense. By the time their one-year anniversary rolls around, though, it’s all fallen apart. He says he wants to leave; she has other ideas. Doyle’s script hops back and forth in time, filling in the story of their relationship as their final showdown unfolds in the present.
Tia Bannon and Mark Rose give compelling performances as the unhappy couple, dealing skilfully with the many changes in mood as time skips back and forth. Bannon has a bright smile that appears at inappropriate moments and which never quite reaches her eyes. And there’s an eerie, almost robotic calm about her throughout, which makes her violent outbursts all the more shocking. Rose, meanwhile, is the very image of a broken man, and handles the physical side of the role well; I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that at times his performance is uncomfortably convincing.
Max Dorey’s set, made up of boxes stacked in a huge pile, allows director Joshua McTaggart the chance to get creative with the staging; the two actors cover almost every inch of the space as they climb all over it, producing props and costumes that are concealed within the set, and which gradually end up scattered around the stage as the couple’s anniversary evening unravels.
So what’s there is good – but the problem is it feels like there’s quite a bit missing from the story. There’s nothing wrong with plot gaps in a play; having everything handed to you on a plate removes any need for interpretation or discussion afterwards. But at just 60 minutes, this play has more gaps than most – and leaves us with a lot of questions but not enough info to try and answer them.
There’s an attempt in the script to explore the psychology of the abuser, but without sufficient detail for us to really understand her motivations. Some conversations seem like they’re about to reveal an important clue – but then the scene changes and we’re left (quite literally) in the dark.
As for the abused, we know next to nothing about him; he keeps insisting he’s not himself in this relationship, but apart from the scene in which the couple first meet, we get very few insights into who he really is outside it; she spends a lot of time reminiscing about her early life, but he never gets that opportunity. No attempt is made to explain why he’s stayed in a relationship that he says himself was only good for the first couple of months, nor what’s prompted him to finally take action now. It’s not often we get to see a depiction of abuse that’s this way around, so it feels like we’ve missed out on a rare opportunity to hear the point of view of a male victim.
I’ll say it again: what’s there is good. This is an excellent production, with strong performances, of a play that just feels a little bit too short. With a bit of work, this could be a really powerful piece of theatre, shedding light on an issue that currently doesn’t get enough attention. As it is now, it’s an enjoyably dark drama, but it doesn’t make the lasting impression that it probably should.
Abigail is at The Bunker until 4th February.