Society: West End & Fringe
Venue: The Space. 269 Westferry Road, London E14 3RS
Credits: By Stephen Gillard and Laura Turner. Performed by Fury Theatre in association with Asylum Players
Billed as “the first showing of a piece in development” this play takes as its starting point the historical fact (although it’s disputed) that after the 1660s Salem Witch hunts, Abigail Williams is last heard of working as a prostitute in Boston, Mass. There seems to be an assumption at the beginning that the audience knows the background. Well, yes, I’ve read the history (and visited Salem) taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and seen many productions of it. But you can’t expect every audience member to be clued up and the story telling needs to be clearer especially in the first half hour.
Abigail (Laura Turner, also co-writer of the play) and Mercy (Lucy Sheree Cooper) arrive in Boston, with some money and saleable articles Abigail has stolen from her uncle so, very naively, they think they can live independently and have an adventure. Of course they’re fair game for thieves and pimps.
Because she was – arguably – responsible for sending many people to their deaths as “witches” Abigail is haunted by Solvi (Sophie Jane Corner) who represents those people. The scenes between her and Turner are very strong. Corner, who uses a very deliberate non-English accent, finds a quality of moral certainty in Solvi and is a powerful presence. And if, the change in lighting and sound whenever she appears reminded me of Elivira in Blithe Spirit I managed to suppress the thought – mostly.
Turner brings a wide range of emotions to Abigail including jealousy because, like Mercy, she fancies Jack (James Green) who oozes false gentleness but is, in fact, a violent man whose only real interest is to pimp out the pair of them. Sophie Kamal makes the landlady/Madam, Mrs Contstance, revoltingly unpleasant. The maid Milly (Sarah Isabell) is already working as a prostitute and the seventh cast member Nathan Haymer-Bates plays several roles including the marshal, an officer of the law, and a brothel customer. The sex scenes are look-away graphic and remind us forcibly that women are easily exploited, then and now.
It’s interesting work from a new female-led company whose mission is to tell stories which highlight issues facing women.
A word, too, about The Space – a venue in Westferry Road near Canary Wharf, which was new to me. A former Victorian Presbyterian chapel, it’s very pretty. There are two problems, though. First the space is so lofty that there’s an acoustic issue. Sometimes the echo blurs the sound, especially when a voice is relatively high pitched. Second, there’s a bar upstairs (so theatre goers can get drinks – good) which also doubles as a public facility with garden beside the building. That means – because of course there’s no sound proofing – that there’s the constant, distracting sound of drinkers enjoying themselves quite loudly.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/abigail/