It felt fitting for me, in my first assignment for Ginger Wig and Strolling Man, to be reviewing a play which closes the inaugural season of the newest off-West End theatre in town. The Bunker Theatre has been converted into a theatre in just the last year by Joel Fisher and Joshua McTaggart, now Executive Producer and Artistic Director, who stumbled across the space when looking for a venue for another project. Both inexperienced but ambitious, they had the chutzpah to set up a new studio theatre in a recession in what used to be the underground car park right next to the Menier Chocolate Factory. The 110-seater studio opened in October, and Abigail is the world premiere of Irish writer Fiona Doyle’s new play, and directed by McTaggart.
The play is a two-hander which centres on the relationship between one man (played by Mark Rose) and one woman (Tia Bannon). Their names are not disclosed although we may guess at the woman’s, the only reference being a fit of pique on her behalf that he hadn’t remembered her name when they first met. The scenes are quick fire, moving in time between the past and the present. From the outset it is clear that this is no smooth ride of a love affair. Her emotions and actions are changeable and volatile. We witness one loving moment, which swiftly turns into a vicious statement and ultimately becomes something more physical.
I found Bannon chillingly and believably good, the way she changed her expression and action in a fraction of a second. The back story is not explicitly told. In fact I am still not sure exactly what happened, and why, and this is obviously the intention of the writer. What definitely comes across is the psychotic edge to the woman, and the likelihood that this stems from an earlier trauma.
The set (designed by Max Dorey) is made up of what looks like packing boxes, which are used intermittently to store props and the jacket and coat which help to denote the different time periods. The cleverest use of one of these boxes is when an entrance which looks like a doorway becomes a shower which the man steps into – and which actually seems to run water.
Music is also used well (sound design by Andy Josephs). For a start, the man is wearing a Nirvana t-shirt (maybe that’s to place him at a certain age – whatever it is, it’s quite a bit older than her). Then, the snippets in the background are of Oasis’s Wonderwall. We hear the refrain ‘you’re gonna be the one that saves me’ which, as we find out in the last scene, sums up the key theme in the play. Loving someone should not really be about saving someone, should it?
Abigail is an absorbing hour’s watch and the parts are played well by the two actors. However there is something missing. It is either from the fact that so much is left untold of what actually happened, or about the staging on three sides which meant that maybe I literally just missed something. Needless to say, it is great to see new writing in a new space, and it is definitely worth looking out for the next season at the Bunker Theatre.