The set for Abigail at Bunker Theatre is simple – beautiful really – white boxes, packing boxes and wooden boxes made into a tower of steps with a door in the middle. Max Dorey has cleverly detailed lights and storage into the set so that everything starts clean. And the story, written by Paptango Prize winner Fiona Doyle, seems simple too. It seems to be about a relationship coming to a natural end and being packed up.
Tia Bannon and Mark Rose play a young woman and middle-aged man who meet on a snowy day in Berlin. They remain elusively unnamed. Their relationship speeds between warm and icy, loving and manipulative, in episodes that flash backwards and forwards in time. The darkness at the heart of it is brilliantly captured in the deep electronic throbs of Andy Josephs’ sound design.
This short play feels fleeting and lacks the emotional depth in its direction and pacing to engage us with its characters meaningfully. It’s a bit like looking at one of those wellbeing colouring books before anything is coloured in. But there’s something in its themes and reveries that I rather enjoyed.
Especially its idea of salvation. Everyone has a deeply embedded desire to be saved, the man says. He says, to her, that that is what people really mean when they say, I love you. They mean, instead, I save you.
If that is the case, then Abigail details the utter inability for one human to give another salvation. Even in a relationship far healthier than the one represented at the Bunker Theatre I can’t imagine any human love being big or pure or perfect enough to save me.
But I think the man’s right when he says we all need to be saved even if we don’t feel it quite in the way he expresses. The Bible depicts the grand narrative of salvation history made personal in the God who humbled himself to come to us as a perfect man: Jesus Christ. One sacrifice for all who believe they need it; a love that really saves for those who follow the God who gives it.
In the play, the girl’s poor mental health becomes increasingly clear but it’s never entirely blamed for the abusive way she handles her relationship. She smothers him emotionally, manipulates him and is eventually physically violent (we have to assume). Her desire for control is damaging. The dirt of their relationship is accrued slowly like the props and clothes that get strewn across the pure set. How much good and how much bad is in her? And how much unaccountability does she have?
I thought that was a rather good picture of what the Bible calls sin – our rejection of the one true God who saves and who loves us perfectly. That is why I and Christians all around the world believe that human relationships in this life never fulfil us fully and why so many human interactions are awfully broken.
The play wasn’t all that good. But it did get me thinking.
Abigail is at Bunker Theatre until 4 February 2017. Tickets (£10 for U25s) are available on the Bunker Theatre website.
Photo: Anton Belmonte