Acclaimed novelist Kate Atkinson is a skilled writer, but seems little too aware of it in her first full-length theatre work. Abandonment's two and three-quarter hours are full of lines which are that teensiest bit too well crafted, very much the stage equivalent of the modern literary novel.
It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Shelagh Stephenson's play of a couple of years ago, An Experiment With An Air-Pump. Here, too, we are presented with dual timelines – present day and a little over a century ago in the same room. Here, too, characters both present and past discuss scientific matters – genetics and evolutionism. Atkinson also throws in pseudo-science – new-agery and Victorian Spiritualism – along with sexuality and a whole knot of complicated family relationships. Oh, and a ghost.
Granted, this is an immensely well put together play and production, and I seemed to be virtually alone in my reservations amid a full-house audience. It seemed to me, though, that only Elaine C. Smith in the contemporary timeline and Michelle Gomez in the nineteenth-century strand cope fully with making their lines sound natural and spontaneous. The rest of the time, Abandonment feels like a beautifully and most thoughtfully made artefact, but an artefact none the less.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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