Haunting, thought-provoking, and sinister. That’s Abigail/1702, a play that looks into the life of Abigail Williams 10 years after her escape from the horrors of the Salem witch trials. Dealing with incredibly dark content without getting too depressing or dreary it combines excellent special effects, and a (mostly) strong performance for a must-watch this July at Melbourne Trades Hall.
The play starts with Abigail (Emma Coldwell) running through the woods after escaping from Salem and the executions that were happening there. She is beset on all side by demons, and her uncle follows behind, reaching her, damning her…and then the lighting changes, and we get on with the real play. The “current” world Abigail inhabits (under the pseudonym “Ruth”) is interrupted by flashbacks and dream sequences; Abigail is tortured by what she did in Salem – causing the murder of her former lover, as well as 20 other innocent people. She is terrified that the Devil, whom she made a pact with, will come and get her, and that the souls of those she had killed will exact vengeance upon her. Into her life stumbles the incredibly ill John Brown (Pat Moonie), a sailor who is in dire need of medical treatment from a “wise woman”.
And you thought you had problems?
The dialogue swings rapidly from distressed and almost frightening in one scene (with calls for protection from the Devil himself), to humorous banter in the next one. And although these changes were fast, they didn’t feel out of place or forced (or overwrought in the case of the darker moments). Instead, they flowed very well into each other, with the humour breaking up the depressing or darker elements, and the darker elements providing interesting insights into turn of the 18th century thinking of the Devil, God, and concepts such as mercy and forgiveness (especially divine forgiveness).
The weak point for me came down to the accents – Coldwell starts off Irish and veers through Scottish, Welsh and a faint Bristol accent. And all the actors who had extended monologues tended to waver slightly with their accents. However, once they got together, their accent adventures tended to be forgotten. And, accents aside, their performances were great – Coldwell pulled off the tortured early 18th century woman very well, and Moonie’s ill sailor was superb – although the crowd favourite probably was the understated yet menacing ‘Man In Grey’ (Rob Gaetano).
What ultimately made this play was the props and staging. The stage itself was almost a walkway, surrounded by the audience, with a small backdrop of a house. Although a little awkward for some patrons (who had their view blocked by scaffolding that doubled as trees and vines), the close nature of the stage (as well as the fact the chairs were actually church pews) meant that the audience felt very much a part of the action and the setting.
One final thing – it was a very nice touch giving out “sacrament” before the show.
To find out more about Abigail/1702 and to buy tickets, see the Boutique Theatre website.