Along a regular London high street, save for the veneer of the Shard peaking above shops, is a theatre tucked away by a sloped entrance. The Bunker is a young theatre showing contemporary works and I was brought along to watch Abigail by a friend who is familiar with the theatre scene in London.
The story is as follows. A young woman meets an older man through coinciding travel schedules and the two eventually form a relationship. Little is known as to its formation, what drew them to each other and they identities are faintly contoured. Details are renounced for over-simplification and the focus is reframed around the relationship, warranting generalisation. There are no other characters and we watch the two obsess over each other, experimentally through elimination of external influence to observe how their minds interact. A chronological construction of events deigns to the complexity of issues and the characters’ inability to disentangle themselves from the chaos stirred up by one another. The play flits back and forth until it closes with their initial meeting. We are forced to acknowledge the contrast between the relationship’s development and subsequent breakdown. An early scene of the couple arguing is revealed by later scenes to be a repeated episode of an exhausted state.
Is she Abigail? The giddy, childish dreamer romancing about escaping far away. We aren’t told and perhaps we don’t question until the end for we are distracted by her wide-eyed passions and inability to contain her excitement of journeying whenever she paces her speech. However, such mannerisms often find themselves swept under disappointment of the immediate situation, and early on, she refuses a conversation about her partner meeting her parents, preferring for them to travel alone instead. He questions her reluctance on the basis of their age difference, and the passing revelation of such a difference would later explain her attraction to him.
Her excitement is her escape from events. She recalls a childhood story of getting glass stuck in her foot, where her father who could not remove this using other methods, sucked her toe to loosen the material. The foreign sensation is overridden by another ‘warm, hot’ feeling, described almost sensually, but she did not like it, shut her eyes and did not protest. Later, she reveals she is still scared of the dark, for when it is dark, it is dark. The literal reinstatement of fears can be traced to one night of Christmas Eve when her father had something to show her. Wearing a bare bed dress, she was pulled to the window, pressed closely against it to see the full bright moon, but in the cold, he put his arms around her and she saw it for the first time…’Big snowflakes falling!’. Imagination and the displacement of ideas are an antidote numbing her story telling, shifting this to less painful experiences. At this point, we can infer she was subject to child sexual abuse. She projects this onto her older partner, demanding his love and holding his lack of affection against him. Towards the end, we find her raising a smashed bottle whilst his hands are clasped over his bloodied head. She delivers ‘You are hurt, you cannot leave’, echoing the bounds of her trap, where imagination and child-like fantasies fail to shield her from the painful past, but invert towards the experience that has become integral to her perception.