Abandonment - Reviewed by Kate Morris | Regional News Connecting Wellington


Written by: Kate Atkinson

Directed by: Catherine McMechan

Gryphon Theatre, 30th Aug 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Stagecraft continues their dynamite season with Abandonment, the debut play from celebrated novelist Kate Atkinson.

Divorcee Elizabeth (Lisa Aaltonen) moves into a converted flat that was once a Victorian mansion, where she is continually invaded by her adoptive mother (Debbie Ryder), dysfunctional sister (Sarah Andrews Reynolds), and friends. Elizabeth begins looking into her past to seize her sense of identity. But in her search, she unearths more than she bargained for – the ghosts of the house’s past occupants, particularly the wronged governess Agnes Soutar (Ivana Palezevic), whose unfortunate circumstances unexpectedly echo through the ages and into Elizabeth’s life.

This witty, character-driven story is packed with everything you would expect from a great novel – thought-provoking themes, dynamic character relationships, and funny dialogue – all delivered across two time periods.

Amy Whiterod’s inventive set design recognises and reflects this collision of eras. Ghostly 2D Victorian furniture and portraits are painted on the auditorium walls, juxtaposing the 2000s setting and cleverly giving the set a vestige of eeriness.

The entire cast makes easy work of this multifaceted story, playing a multitude of characters between the split timelines. However, what stands out for me is the quality of the female roles, which has been a theme for Stagecraft this season.

Andrews Reynolds proves her versatility in her two contrasting roles with compelling and emotional resonance. Louisa McKerrow stands out as Elizabeth’s patient best friend (and house servant Gertie). Mckerrow's delightful charm and impeccable comic timing adds layers of humour – an all-round joy to watch.

At its heart, the play explores themes of female abandonment and how the past can live on, a sentiment especially emulated by Aaltonen and Palezevic’s deft portrayals. At 40, Elizabeth is still haunted by her birth mother abandoning her as a baby, while Agnes is impregnated and discarded by the house master before meeting a sticky end.

This layered and complex story is a reminder that perhaps the past isn’t as far away as we think.

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