Theatre review: Abyss at the Arcola

Abyss at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Richard Davenport

Abyss at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Richard Davenport - Credit: Richard Davenport

A powerful love story rises from the ashes of tragedy in Maria Milisavljevic’s poetic new play, says Emily Govan.

Abyss at the Arcola is the UK premiere of Maria Milisavljevic’s incredibly poetic and original play. A 24-year-old woman, Karla has gone missing, going out to buy pizza one night and not coming home. With the police and newspapers seemingly not interested in Karla’s disappearance, her three friends begin a desperate search for her that forces them to confront the darkness of their past.

Nicola Kavanagh narrates the story, detailing the nightmarish days that pass as Karla is still not found. Karla’s boyfriend Vlado (Iain Batchelor) turns detective, but the narrator – bored with her straight-laced boyfriend Jan – finds Vlado’s passion exciting, and he carries a torch for her too.

The police eventually become interested in the missing woman, but only when they discover Vlado’s Serb/Croat ancestry, which to them makes him suspect.

Sofia (Jennifer English) divides up the chapters of the story by providing an account of the stages of the skinning of the rabbit, a strong metaphor but not immediately obvious.

The setting is a dodgy city with untrustworthy characters with unclear motives at every corner. But in the end this thriller comes down to personal relationships between the set of friends. Every trace of the missing girl tests their loyalties, loves and lies.

It’s a beautifully written piece, although the narrative can often be confusing and hard to follow. The movement of the actors is physical, high-energy and original, as they leap onto tables and hang off bars. The noise of their constantly moving bare feet is a perfect accompaniment to the words themselves.

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This is a touching love story and a powerful drama, focussing on longing, guilt, and the relationships we have with one another. A complex and fascinating play.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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