Review: Abigail at The Space and online

Set in Boston shortly after the events of the Salem Witch Trials, Fury Theatre’s piece in development Abigail presents an imagined account of what might have happened to the young accuser Abigail Williams after she left Salem. Still haunted by the knowledge of what she’s done and why she did it, Abigail (Laura Turner) arrives in the city with best friend Mercy (Lucy Sheree Cooper) and takes rooms at a boarding house run by Mrs Constance (Sophie Kamal). But it’s not long before the two find themselves in dire financial straits and are forced to throw themselves on the mercy of charismatic Jack (James Green), a local man whose friendly demeanour and apparent show of support hides dark intentions.

Photo credit: Richard Hall

Touching on themes of misogyny, racism and sexuality, the play explores the plight of women in 17th century Massachusetts, and invites the audience to consider how far we’ve progressed since then – a particularly relevant question in light of recent events in the USA. The witch trials are not a direct part of the narrative, but are referred back to through the frequent appearances of Salem victim Solvi (Sophie Jane Corner), and provide context for Abigail’s motivations and actions – particularly towards other women – as she tries to move on and build a new life.

As Abigail, Laura Turner begins the play with a show of defiance, but this begins to fall away as the story develops – in stark contrast to the wide-eyed innocence of Lucy Sheree Cooper’s Mercy, which comes to an abrupt and horrifying end as Act 1 concludes. Nor are these the only characters to undergo a change; in fact almost none of the women on stage is quite the same by the end of the play. Solvi starts out as a menacing figure – the stereotypical “witch” – but ultimately becomes the voice of reason who guides Abigail to some form of redemption, while barmaid Milly (Sarah Isbell) quickly reveals herself to be much more than “just” a prostitute, even if she doesn’t realise it herself. Even Mrs Constance, at first glance the most straightforward character of all, reveals in the play’s closing moments a hidden rage that goes some way to explaining why she behaves the way she does.

Photo credit: Richard Hall

Writers Laura Turner and Stephen Gillard (who also directs) don’t shy away from difficult subjects, and the play comes with a substantial list of content warnings including racist language, themes of abuse and the explicit depiction of sexual violence. It’s no surprise then that the resulting narrative becomes very intense, with Abigail and Mercy seemingly having arrived in a place that presents every possible kind of threat; Act 1 even has an element of supernatural horror thrown in for good measure. As a result the play can at times feel a little disjointed, leaping from one topic to another and back again while dealing at length with some issues and characters, and only touching very briefly on others. This has the effect of making some themes feel much more urgent than the rest, and the piece could therefore benefit either from greater balance or from trying to address fewer issues in one story.

As a piece still in development, Abigail certainly shows potential and makes for intriguing viewing. While it’s currently perhaps a little over-ambitious, the groundwork is there for a powerful discussion about the experience and treatment of women in the continuing face of violence, bias and discrimination – so it’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

This run of Abigail has now concluded at The Space, but you can visit Fury Theatre’s website to find out more about the play’s future development.

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