Amongst the vocal campaigns fighting domestic violence against women and male rights’ activists misogynist responses, the fact that at least 4% of men are victims themselves is often overlooked. That 4% is reported abuse and no doubt there are many more cases that are never logged with authorities.
Fiona Doyle’s unnamed couple in Abigail aims to capture the universal potential for male domestic abuse, but misses the mark. Their relationship unfolds in non-linear episodes, but much is missed out and the fragmented structure causes a lack of variation in pace and energy.
Whilst it’s satisfying to gradually piece the narrative elements together, it’s impossible to see the intricacies of the relationship’s development. There are scenes that show them very much in love at the beginning of their relationship, and there are scenes that show the Woman physically abusing the Man. There’s little in between showing the gradual introduction of abuse and the strengthening of the hold she has on him, so the entire package feels repetitive.
There is some lovely chemistry between the performers, and Tia Bannon as Woman shows great range. Her transitions from youthful and sweet into a vicious manipulator are striking and horrible, but she’s underserved by Doyle’s script. She is painted in broad strokes as either a violent narcissist completely lacking in emotional empathy, or childlike and frivolous. There is also an almost complete lack of Man’s (Mark Rose) crumbling strength. The pace is fairly constant and even though there are scenes where danger is tangible, the delivery doesn’t alter.
Max Dorey’s Minecraft-ian pile of wooden crates and boxes is aesthetically pleasing in its straight lines and scalability, and also functions as storage for props and costumes. Though it takes up most of the height of the back wall, it doesn’t dominate. It looks complex, but is quite simple – a great combination of appearance and function.
Despite good performances from the actors, Doyle’s script lets down this important, neglected message. At just over an hour, there is certainly room to add more scenes but what with the repetitive format, this would make the play too long. There’s no easy fix to solve the issues with this disappointment of a text, but it has good intentions and tries to raise awareness of a problem society quickly ignores.
Abigail runs through 4 February.
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