Most of us will be familiar with Arthur Miller’s character Abigail; the seductress who caught John Proctor’s eye and led a group of girls that sent innocent women to their demise. Stephen Gillard and Laura Turner’s Abigail at the Space on the Isle of Dogs is a study of Abigail’s character development to show us a more complex heroine, one we pity. It is unclear whether this play is an extension of Miller’s The Crucible, or stands alone, but its occasional referral to specific details within Miller’s play, and not just the Salem Witch Trials, would suggest that it could be interpreted as a sequel.
a reminder of the state of the justice system
The storyline is one that we’ve heard many times before, perhaps due to the plot itself or the themes explored. Picking up where The Crucible leaves off, Abigail tells the story of how Abigail (Laura Turner) and Mercy (Lucy Sheree Cooper) flee to Boston after the witch trials and attempt to make their way after the confines of Puritanical Salem. With speeches about justice and society that could rival, but not quite meet the standard of John Proctor’s ‘because it is my name’ speech, the play tries to do two things at once. It is both an exploration of guilt, in particular Abigail’s in the role that she played during the trials embodied in the character of Solvi (Sophie Jane Corner), and additionally provides a contrast to women’s treatment in society and within the justice system. While it is clear why the presence of Haley Muraleedharan as intimacy co-ordinator is necessary, it is unclear what the purpose of most of the explicit intimate scenes is, and their frequent recurrence detracts from the shock that they are most likely supposed to convey.
The most engrossing aspect of this production is the scrutiny of guilt, as it adds something new to the character of Abigail that previous iterations do not necessarily explore. Turner as Abigail is unpredictable, she quickly changes from one state of mind to another, but throughout the performance we witness flashes of vulnerability that become more frequent as it goes on. It is an interesting interpretation of Abigail as a person, but the overall impression of the character is someone who is hostile and petulant, no matter how much vulnerability Turner shows. Corner, as Solvi, is a great addition, but the purpose of the character is not always clear. With little explanation of who she is from the start, we have to try and piece together the little tangible information that we are given between her poltergeist-like appearances. Corner’s matter of fact explanations and speeches are sometimes the best and most enjoyable to watch, adding some light relief to an incredibly heavy show.
Abigail works as a reminder of the state of the justice system. The overall concept and narrative of the play is quite confused as it switches between its two plots. A clarification about whether this is an extension of The Crucible or at least less referencing of some of its details would be helpful. This show has potential, but just reinforces a storyline and a reality of which there are already many examples.