Pros: A stripped-bare production that allows only for raw emotion and fear.
Cons: Slightly over-stylised making it difficult to connect in places.
I love the Arcola Theatre. It manages to use exposed brick and MDF to create a cosy bar and diverse theatre spaces. Tucked away and hidden behind a set of unassuming double doors slap bang in the heart of Dalston, the Arcola has combats trendiness with homeliness. I always get there early and park myself in the candlelit bar, making my way through a steaming bowl of pre-show arancini.
Belly full, I am ready and raring to see what Abyss has to offer. The title, alone, gives off an ominously evocative feeling. Karla, 24, has gone missing, on her way to buy pizza from the shop. Her boyfriend Vlado (Iain Batchelor), flatmate, She (Jennifer English) and best mate, I (Nicola Kavanagh) are left in the wake of the devastation. They become ever more suffocated by their own obsessions, lies and truths that surround the incident. The audience are dragged along, never knowing who to trust or whether the truth will out. There is a hefty sense of the togetherness found in displacement, as we follow three Serbs in Germany, struggling to have their voices heard by the law. Their identity is strengthened, perhaps overly, by their lack of belonging as is their love for one another as they become magnetically drawn to the few who understand. The love story that this underpins is powerful in its wrongness, effectively reeling the audience into their mind-set.
The studio housing Abyss is like a blank canvas of chipboard. Every time I go I’m convinced I’m in a different space because of how each play has brought it to life, moved seating and plonked their world right in the middle of it. It’s quite incredible that such a small space can undergo transformation after transformation, so that it’s audience never feels as though it’s in the same place twice. In this case, designer Lucy Sierra and Lighting Designer Ziggy Jacobs have created a sparse, practical and stylistic backdrop for Abyss to take form from. The bricked back wall is dripping with light balls, hanging from copper piping. Each bulb flickers, dims and brightens along with the mood. In front is a big, sturdy table that provides a centre for the play’s drama. It forms part of a kitchen, serves as a platform, a bed and as a tool to facilitate the actors’ multi-role play. Either side of the stage, the actors contort, twist and hang themselves off two trapeze bars which adds even more dynamism and fluidity to the narrative.
The actors’ physicality is almost lyrical. Batchelor thuds his way around the stage in intensively rhythmic style: hunting because he’s ‘the kind that finds’. English’s character is small but feisty like a pocket superhero. Kavanagh draws them all together as she, herself, is pulled in every which direction, torn between loyalty, betrayal, love and ceaseless desire to belong. Kavanagh’s performance is poetic and emotionally strong.
In fact Abyss is exactly that: poetic and emotionally strong. We are carried along with it like an unpredictable wave like that which took Karla in the circumstances of her suspicious death. The only jarring point is that it is too heavily stylised, making it difficult for the audience to bond with the real emotion. Abyss is beautifully moving, darkly twisting through emotion with pace and poetry.
Author: Maria Milisavljevic
Director: Jacqui Honess-Martin
Producer: Arcola Theatre
Booking Until: 25/04/2015
Box Office: 0207 503 1646
Booking Link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/production/arcola/abyss