Arcola Theatre, London (Studio 2)
There are many young talents at work in Abyss. Maria Milisavlejevic is a young award-winning German playwright who won a coveted 2013 Kleist Promotional Award for Young Dramatists for the German version, Brandung. She is also artistic director of her own company, TheaterTruppe but is now living in Canada as playwright in residence at the Tarragon Theater Toronto.
Director Jacqui Honess-Martin is artistic director of InSite Performance, the company presenting Abyss and an NT Connections director as well as assistant on a formidable array of other organisations. (She’s also previously directed the well regarded Larisa and the Merchants at the Arcola). Producer Rowan Rutter helps run InSite and is a Producer for Cardboard Citizens. And designer Lucy Sierra has a similarly impressive rostra of credits.
But for all the facts, there are as many mysteries at the heart of Abyss. A cryptic thriller cum physical movement-performance piece, set in an unnamed German city, it revolves around the disappearance of Karla, the girlfriend of a character called HE, Vlado, who also happens to be the ex boy friend of the narrator known as `I’. The only other character is SHE, Sophia, `I’s sister.
Nicola Kavanagh’s `I’ is a persuasive narrator. She it is who leads us through a labyrinthine tumult of emotions ranging from family memories to idyllic swimming encounters, to jealousy and atrocities committed on animals (rabbits) and humans alike. But the facts of the narrative are never quite clear nor the motivations of the stark-eyed Vlado (a very hunted looking Iain Batchelor) or softer Sophia. We lurch from incident to incident, Karla’s disappearance lengthens into weeks, Vlado grows more desperate and there are brief glimpses of traumas concerning the Yugoslav-Serbia-Croatian war. An abyss of questions yawns before us in this nomansland of wandering souls and exiled lives.
All very European and in its own way, haunting and marvellously performed by the cast. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leave perplexed. An online review of a staged reading in Boston notes the differences the author made to the script for its Toronto outing. I’d love to know which one the Arcola is using.
First published in Reviewsgate, April 2015