Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Abigail Hood: Spiral

By | Published on Friday 28 July 2023

If you saw the play ‘Monster’ when it was on at Park Theatre around this time last year, then you are definitely aware of the work of Abigail Hood, who was the writer of that piece.

She is also the creator of ‘Spiral’, which was staged to acclaim, also at Park Theatre, in pre-pandemic times, and which begins a run at Jermyn Street Theatre this week, produced by Veritas Theatre Company. 

The play is about people who go missing and the impact it has on those around them, focusing in particular on a relationship between two people who have significant family members absent from their lives. 

As well as being the creative brain behind the play, Abigail also performs in the show. I spoke to her to find out more. 

CM: To start, can you tell us about the narrative of ‘Spiral’? What story does it tell? 
AH: ‘Spiral’ explores the ramifications of people going missing.

It centres on the relationship between Tom – a teacher whose world is falling apart following the disappearance of his teenage daughter – and Leah – a young woman in the grip of a highly abusive relationship and desperately missing her father.

When they meet – in an unusual circumstance – their lives have both reached crisis point yet they find in each other a chink of light and some much needed comfort. However, this relationship – although pure and constructive – has a huge impact on those closest to them.

CM: What themes are explored through the play? 
AH: People going missing and the effect this can have on the people left behind – waiting and aching for that person to return. And abuse – physical, emotional, sexual and psychological.

As I touched on earlier, the character of Leah is trapped in an abusive relationship. The issue of abuse is very much in the zeitgeist at the moment due to recent revelations and the #metoo campaign, so I felt it was vital to be accurate in the depiction of this relationship.

Albeit not explicitly, the play also looks at how difficult it is for an older man to have any kind of relationship with a younger woman without being judged by society as being predatory.

Although this is often the case, and it is a huge step forward that so many are speaking out, is the unfortunate by-product of this positive movement a hyper-awareness in our society that means we tar every relationship between an older man and a younger woman with the same brush?

In ‘Spiral’ the one relationship that is pure and constructive is this one, yet this is the one that attracts most disapproval and suspicion. 

Finally, it looks at fathers and daughters… the role of this relationship.

CM: What inspired you to write this play? What made you want to create a piece tackling this topic, these themes?
AH: “Dear Steven, we love you, we miss you. We hope you found what you were looking for”. A number of years ago, I saw this printed in the bottom corner of a free London newspaper and it caught the breath in my throat.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the people that had sent in that entry; how long had Steven been gone? Why had they, seemingly, given up hope of him coming home? Had they given up all hope?

Why did they think he had gone? Was it a shock when he left? Did they think he would see the entry in the newspaper? What did they hope it would achieve? How had they reached a place where they had accepted what he had done?

My mind was reeling. If the person I loved most in the world walked out of my life, how would I feel? How would I go on? Would I ever stop searching? Would I ever be able to move on from that? Or would that event define me for the rest of my life?

It was these questions that inspired me to write ‘Spiral’ and explore how people cope in the worst imaginable situation. The possible strategies they may use and how they would manage to go on living when in a state of limbo, waiting and aching for someone’s return.

Well, that was where it began and is where the play begins…

CM: Can you tell us about the creative process you went through when writing the play? How did the play come together?   
AH: When I began writing the play I knew I wanted to explore the need we feel, as humans, to be needed by another person; not sexually but emotionally. So I began writing, knowing nothing more than this.

I had two characters; a man in his fifties whose daughter was missing and a young woman in her twenties whose father had walked out when she was a child. I didn’t know what would happen when they began talking so I started writing to find out.

It soon became clear that this connection was beneficial to them both, that at a point of despair in both of their lives a stranger was able to offer comfort, a chink of light and a possibility of a future that would not be just existing. 

Once I had explored this relationship in isolation I then began thinking about the wider picture.

In the case of the older man, Tom, what had been the effects on his life of having a daughter go missing? On his job? What had the media reaction been? And how did this burgeoning friendship affect these things?

In the case of the young woman, Leah, what had her life been like since her Dad left? The lasting impressions? Who did she live with now? And, in the case of them both, could they really save each other?

These were the questions that I set out to explore as I developed the play. In an attempt to contextualise the situation I had created, I then did a vast amount of research into the emotional ramifications people feel when a loved one goes missing; reading many books, testimonies online and talking to staff at the charity Missing People.

As the character of Leah suffers abuse at the hands of her partner I also did a lot of research into abuse and the many ways it can manifest.

Once this research was done I went back to my story and, now armed with a catalogue of true stories and testimonies, allowed my imagination to explode. 

CM: You also perform in the show. Did you always plan to take a role in it? Can you tell us about the character you play? 
AH: Yes, when I began writing ‘Spiral’ I always planned to play the role of Leah. When we meet her at the beginning of the play, she is a young woman with low self-esteem, trapped in an abusive relationship.

Her controlling boyfriend Mark forces her to work as an escort to fuel his sexual fantasies but is often overcome with jealousy when – on her return home – he hears the details.

At the point at which Leah meets Tom the abuse she is experiencing at home has reached an almost intolerable level.

Leah’s greatest sadness is that she has not seen her father since she was eleven – when he walked out of the family home. This need for a father figure is, temporarily, filled by Tom and the two take huge strength from each other.

CM: Can you tell us about the rest of the cast? 
AH: Kevin Tomlinson – who also directs the show – is an actor, writer and director who has worked all over the world.

Most recently, he directed the triple Offie nominated ‘Monster’ at the Park Theatre. He previously won the Sunday Times Playwright Award for his play’ Who?’ and the Rose Bruford Trust Directors Award.

He started his career at the Royal Theatre in Northampton and has since gone on to work at some of Britain’s leading theatres, including The National Theatre, The Royal Court and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

His one-man show ‘Seven Ages’ has taken him not only to the Edinburgh Festival, but to many far-flung places including Bali, South Korea, Dubai and Canada – to name but a few!

Jasper Jacob is a stalwart of the acting profession, having started out when he was a child. His credits range from TV comedy ‘White Gold’ to performances at the National Theatre. Many years ago, he was Captain Yorr – Darth Vadar’s shuttle pilot – in ‘Return Of The Jedi’. 

In 2022, Rebecca Crankshaw was Offie nominated for Best Solo Performance in ‘21 Round For Christmas’ at the Bridge House Theatre. She was winner of the Norman Beaton Fellowship 2021 and a BBC Radio Drama Company member in 2022.

CM: And can you tell us more about yourself? What drew you to a career in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do? 
AH: I first developed my love of performing when I was selected to be one of the child performers in the professional pantomime in Bury St Edmunds.

I loved every second of rehearsals; doing my bit and watching the professional actors – my Mum still laughs today when she recalls that I could recite the whole thing from start to finish!

As I grew up I took every acting opportunity offered; relishing the process of delving into different characters, exploring what it is that makes different characters tick, working with others to create believable relationships and telling stories.

I knew from a very early age that it was an acting career that I wanted to pursue and so, in pursuit of this dream, I attended the Oxford School Of Drama to train professionally. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far? 
AH: A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of the original cast of Polly Stenham’s incredible play ‘That Face’ at the Royal Court, directed by Jeremy Herrin and starring Lindsay Duncan, Felicity Jones, Matt Smith, Julian Wadham and Catherine Steadman. This was a truly remarkable experience.

Another highlight was working on Kevin Dyer’s fantastic play called ‘The Bomb’, which fictionalised the meeting between Patrick Magee – the member of the IRA who made and planted the 1984 Brighton bomb – and Jo Berry – daughter of Conservative MP Anthony Berry who was killed in the explosion.

Inspired by the real-life meeting of these two people, the play explored the theme of redemption and forgiveness. To be a part of this play with such immediate social relevance was one of the most exhilarating, testing and fulfilling of my career.

Finally, during lockdown, I wrote a play called ‘Monster’ which ran at the Park Theatre for four weeks last summer. Having worked on it everyday for months it was pure joy to put it on stage and share the story with an audience.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
AH: I would love to do more theatre – roles that will really challenge me… and some Shakespeare would be wonderful. I would also love a television or film role, a gritty drama perhaps! I also aim to write more plays…

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
AH: Possibly a holiday?! And then, with luck, another role!

‘Spiral’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 2-19 Aug, for more info and to book tickets, head to the venue website here.

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