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Interview with Abigail Poulton from the cast of Contractions

Contractions. Fifi Garfield (The Manager), Abigail Poulton (Emma). Credit - Becky Bailey
Contractions. Fifi Garfield (The Manager), Abigail Poulton (Emma). Credit – Becky Bailey

Deafinitely Theatre’s site-specific production of Mike Bartlett’s play Contractions marks the company’s 15th anniversary. A co-production with New Diorama Theatre and staged on a disused trading floor at New Diorama’s ND2, it will be Deafinitely Theatre’s first site-specific show. Artistic Director of Deafinitely Theatre, Paula Garfield, directs Fifi Garfield and Abigail Poulton in the production which opens on 8th November, with previews from 1st November, and runs until 29th November 2017.

Are your employers concerned about your welfare? Do they have a duty of care? Emma thinks so, but when she begins a relationship with colleague Darren her Manager suggests she might be in breach of contract. A series of bizarre meetings follow, during which the consequences of Emma’s actions take on a disturbing quality… A dark comedy about faceless corporations, nameless management and the boundaries between work and play.

Deafinitely Theatre’s Contractions is the first professional revival of the play in London since its debut at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008.

Abigail Poulton recently took time out to answer a few questions about the production.

Q: You are in Deafinitely Theatre’s site-specific production of Contractions…
Abigail: I most deafinitely am?!
I am truly honoured to be part of this production, playing Emma in this co-production by the marvellous Deafinitely Theatre and The New Diorama. Bringing the world of Bartlett’s dark play Contractions to life with the sterling guidance of Paula and the creative team is providing a truly profound experience

Q: Can you tell us about Deafinitely Theatre?
Abigail: As a CODA (Child Of a Deaf Adult), I would attend Deafinitely Theatre productions with my Mother who is Deaf as a youngster, leaving my seat post-production I would be incredibly moved and inspired, as a result I made it a personal and professional aim to “someday” work with this awesome theatre company. With that in mind, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for being cast in this production of Contractions.

Deafinitely (Theatre) is the UK’s leading Deaf Theatre company, run by the incredible Artistic Director and Co-founder Paula Garfield. The team are celebrating 15 years of existence this year! Happy Birthday, Team!
This fantastic company produces both artistic and accessible productions, using British Sign Language and Spoken English in a bold, brave and imaginative manner. Their work has profoundly affected audiences for years, ranging from Shakespeare at the Globe to contemporary works at the Park Theatre, they have been blasting the barriers facing deaf audiences for the past fifteen years, Contractions also aims to do just that.

Q: Can you tell us about the site-specific aspects of this production?
Abigail: Contractions will be the first EVER production to dominate the bizarre yet brilliant Atrium space of the ND2, Warren Street.

Owned by The New Diorama, usually acting as the largest Green Room in Europe?! to the lucky creatives working in the building, this space stands in the centre of a circular office building with levels of offices looking down into the performance space. There are rehearsal rooms darting off from this open space, where magic is continually being created by a range of production teams on the daily.

With this in mind, The Manager, Emma, and the audience will be sat in a real-life office space which is used daily by JP Morgan staff in the heart of London. This is has proved immensely beneficial when developing the character of Emma, observing real-life office workers on breaks between scene-setting and polishing. The space truly immerses you in the world of Bartlett’s dark comedy, Contractions; it promises to give you an unforgettable theatrical experience!

Q: What is at the heart of Contractions?

I believe at the ‘heart’ of Contractions is the absurd treatment of employees who are legally bound by bonkers policies, at the merciless hands of their employers.

It’s entrapment, in essence, abusing the desperation of those who are deeply unhappy at work but persevere on their professional plight regardless, due to an all-consuming fear that repeatedly tells them that they are “never going to get a job as good as this” ever again.

Contractions, delves, specifically into the manipulative bond that binds a Manager to their staff body, exploring the ill-treatment which is a universally and timelessly felt by us all at some point in our working lives. This is shown through the Managers brutal victimisation of Emma throughout this dark comedy, their relationship acting as a microcosm symbolic of all those thousands – millions (!) of workers who are being exploited in the workplace daily.

Q: You play the part of Emma – can you tell us about her and how she fits into the storyline?
Abigail: Emma is a brand-new recruit to ‘The Company’, full of energy and charisma she starts the job blissfully ignorant to the extent she is willing to stretch for the sake of her job, at the merciless hands of the cruel and calculated Manager.

She is incredibly hard-working, living life by the book, she gets to work on time, in the correct attire using all the right words. She is warm-hearted, professional and would be the person you could confide in should you need advice. Having moved to the big smoke for this new role in this exciting ‘Company’, she is left perplexed by the style of management adopted by her new Manager. Despite her initial suspicion she is swallowed and warped by the corporate system and loses her way in the dark.

As the play develops, and the meetings with the Manager become more regular and rigorous Emma is caught between a desk and hard place, exposed through endless interrogations after the Manager finds out about her ‘romantic and sexual’ goings on with a colleague, Darren Glenister.

The Manager well and truly blurs and blotches the line between professional and personal, digging with a small, sharp spade, into Emma’s private life. The play takes a turn towards neo-Jacobean absurdity, dragging Emma down to the darkest depths of the human condition; she is pushed and prodded beyond her limits and is left with nothing but her job.

Her journey through the play takes her from a fresh-faced, confident and daring new employee to a tarnished, brain-washed and utterly abused human. Battered and broken by bonkers, binding legal implications delivered by the Manager and her home-made contract she resembles a heartless robot by the end of the play.

Despite the twisted tribulations presented throughout EMMA’s journey, I am thoroughly enjoying the whole process while working alongside such passionate creatives; relishing particularly working with Paula and Fifi Garfield.

Q: What do you hope the audience will take away with them?
Abigail: Above all, I want the audience to leave with a new or greater appreciation for British Sign Language and its place in the world as a Language as well as its place on stage and screen. They will want to see more accessible theatre and to see more Deaf talent in the mainstream media.

I’d also like, in the politest of ways, for them to carry an unsettled and segmented emotional state out of their seats into their real lives; making them question how important work is to them and what they are sacrificing at the expense of pleasing their bosses. It may inspire a change of job for those most affected in the audience, I hope they make some profound realisations. They may be able to draw a line between the world of the play and their own working experience, in this case, I advise them to quit. QUIT TOMORROW.


Deafinitely Theatre is the UK’s only professional deaf-led theatre company, creating bilingual productions of classic and contemporary plays for deaf and hearing audiences that combine the visual storytelling of British Sign Language with the immediacy of spoken English.

Deafinitely Theatre’s CONTRACTIONS, the first professional revival of the play in London since its debut at the Royal Court Theatre, marks the company’s 15th anniversary, following productions at the Gate, Soho and Globe theatres.

Written by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Paula Garfield.
Wed 1 – Wed 29 Nov 2017


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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