2 April 2015

Abyss at the Arcola Theatre was a little too clever for my own good

My second play in a day about a person who disappeared was less successful than the first, though some of that may have been my fault.

The first play was Frozen which I watched at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and from there I walked the 4 km south-west to the Arcola Theatre. This took me through some new territory including Clissold Park and Newington Green. My feelings towards this part of East London were not improved by the general sense of decay or by witnessing a minor robbery.

The Arcola Bar was as welcoming as ever and I had a very pleasant pre-theatre session there helping myself to some food, drink and their wi-fi. The food was the same strange combination of crunch stuff, salad and stew that I had had on my previous visit, as I was hoping that it would be.

As usual the place was busy and had a nice arty buzz to it. Park Theatre and Arcola Theatre have two of my favourite front of house areas and that matters when you are travelling as far as I do to get to these places.

We were down in Studio 2 which still had unallocated seating so I got myself ready to move in good time. I saw one or two others do the same but I may have overreacted a little as I was the first one in the queue by a country mile. At least that meant that I got my preferred seat just to the right of the aisle in the front row.

There was not much to see from there, other than a bare table placed at an angle and the back wall strewn with lightbulbs. And that was going to be it for props for the evening.

The main story of Abyss was told poetically, like a modern ballad being enacted for us. I liked that, a lot, for much the same reason that I like Dylan Thomas, the rhythm of words can be as important as their meanings.

In that story a woman went missing and her two friends set out to find her, and that meant enlisting the help of some unusual characters for their knowledge of the town and the women. Structurally it reminded me of The Dog, The Night and The Knife, which I also saw at the Arcola and had loved.

Around this perfectly formed heart grew some strange things.

One of the threads was like somebody reading from the Ladybird Book of Killing and Cooking a Rabbit. This was read to us a page at a time throughout the evening. I never worked out was the point was but it did explain the rabbit mask in the poster above.

The play was also very physical, I would say over physical to the point to distraction. I did not mind some of the running around the table to represent searching the town for the missing woman, or some of the climbing on to the table even though that was clearly an unnatural thing to do, but I completely missed the point of the bars that the cast sometimes performed minor circus pieces on.

Where I will accept that some of this may have been my fault was that it had been a long day with another play earlier and lots of walking (I first walked to Park Theatre from Kings Cross) and as Abyss failed to grip me completely I did loose some attention towards the end, possibly enough to miss the point of some of the strange things happening but I suspect not.

Physical theatre is hard to get right, especially when there is not a right. For example, I loved the movement in Wink but hated it in Mies Julie. I did not like it here either though I am sure that other people did.

In the end, the superfluous bits that I thought were over-clever had more of an impact on me than the poetic elements and I found Abyss something of a disappointment.

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