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Review of Abyss at the Arcola Theatre

Cast of Abyss
Abyss cast – Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

From the get-go, you are brought in. You are brought into the lives of three flatmates (friends) and an event that has shaken them deeply. Pay close attention, or you may miss out on the journey you will take with these three perturbed people.

Abyss receives its UK premiere at the Arcola Theatre after performing in Berlin and Toronto. This poetic, emotive and physically strong drama written by Maria Milisavljevic encapsulates a story of loss and friendship and the struggle to stay on an unknown path together. One night, flatmate Karla quickly pops to the shop only to never return. Three friends, awaiting her return, soon find themselves in a desperate search for her. They come face to face with their own pasts as well as each other’s. Stories of love, lies and more intertwine in this mysterious, thriller-like tale.

I enter Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre and find a basic, thick table in the centre of the stage at a diagonal. On the back wall are numerous lightbulbs hanging at different angles and lengths on strong bronze-coloured wires. The set is minimal but with the ominous music in the audience’s entrance, it suits and it works well. The show is very emotive; both physically and verbally. It switches and mixes between the two so frequently that you can sometimes find yourself lost. However, the consistency of this is strong and with the concentration this play deserves, you can find your balance. I personally suffered for the first 15-20 minutes of the show as I found some of the scene and physical changes to be unobservant. Once I got to know my central three characters and had them as a ‘constant’ for the show, it was much easier.

The chemistry, interaction and trust between the three actors is impeccable to which praise goes towards their skills and the casting. The actors’ work, both physical and verbal, are on-point and they bounce from each other with ease in this twisted and fast thriller.

The trio are led by the Nicola Kavanagh’s central character. She holds the majority of the dialogue throughout the production and leads the audience through the story. Kavanagh proves to deliver strongly and consistently. We follow her through this troubling time and we are allowed more into her character’s emotions and events more so than the other two. She showcases her character well and, more importantly, correctly.

Jennifer English’s character is more held back and put more to the side. However, the actress is strong physically, and when her moments come, she shines. And Iain Batchelor’s physical performances are a step above the other two. You pay most attention to him when he is circling the stage, for better or worse. He shows great flexibility in his characters but the changes are so radically different that as soon as the character changes, it can come off as unintentionally comical. His vocals are strong and his commitment to his character is powerful and in certain scenes, moving and rewarding.

Jacqui Honess-Martin’s decisive and deep direction blends perfectly with the strength and frustratingly-styled movement qualities by Anna Morrissey. The lighting and the sound (Ziggy Jacobs-Woburn & Tim Middleton) helps enhance this further. The lightbulbs from the back wall prove to be great storytelling and a strong addition for the actors whilst the sound allows the feeling of intensity in the production to be heightened. Though, sometimes, all of these (direction, movement, lighting and sound) can be, at times, a little harsh and overbearing. Though, majorly and in the grand scheme of the production, this is not really a point-out problem.

The commitment of everyone involved in this production is clear and great. The talent and proof of hard work is clearly there. However, a production so tense, yet quick, and ‘wordy’, could afford to slow down every now and again so the audience can make sure they have taken everything in. There are a few moments where I wish I could have back-tracked ever so slightly.

Despite any criticisms, this production KNOWS what it is about. This is more than I can say for similar styled pieces I’ve seen. In this production, Milisavljevic’s writing proves to be stand-out. Well-written characters and a poetic tense bring this play up higher. I wish it success.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Tomm Ingram

MISSING. Karla Richter, 24. Was last seen before she left for the supermarket. Four days ago”
Pizza night. Karla runs to the shop, and doesn’t come home. Three friends begin a desperate search that takes them into the darkness of their past, where every trace of the missing girl tests their loyalties, loves and lies. This exhilarating new play is a poetic thriller, a touching love story, and a powerful drama about exile, friendship and loss. Maria Milisavljevic won the prestigious German Kleist Award for Young Dramatists in 2013 for Abyss. This is its UK premiere.

Directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin
Designer Lucy Sierra Sound Designer Tim Middleton Movement Director Anna Morrissey Lighting Designer Ziggy Jacobs Production Manager Ed Borgnis for Jamie Hendry Productions
Cast: Nicola Kavanagh, Iain Batchelor and Jennifer English

Monday – Saturday evenings at 8pm
Saturday matinees at 3:30pm
4 April, 11 April – £14 / £12 concessions
18 April, 25 April – £17 / £12 concessions
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes approximately (including interval)
Recommended for ages 14+
In Studio 2, seating is unallocated.

Saturday 4th April 2015


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