Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Joshua McTaggart: Abigail

By | Published on Thursday 19 January 2017

The latest show over at The Bunker is ‘Abigail’ by award winning playwright Fiona Doyle, and it’s being overseen by the new venue’s artistic director Joshua McTaggart.
I put some questions to him, keen to know more about the play, but also get an insight into how the new space came into being, and what its aims and ideals are.

CM: Tell us about Abigail – who is she?
JM: I’m afraid I can’t tell you that…You’ll have to come see the show to find out!

CM: Ok, so what is the play about, then? What’s the story?
JM: ‘Abigail’ follows a man and a woman who meet in a snow-covered Berlin. They’re both visiting Germany for very different reasons. Across a fractured timeline, intricately structured by writer Fiona Doyle, we bear witness to a relationship that undergoes a series of unexpected and thrilling turns.

CM: What would you say the show’s primary themes are?
JM: Fiona has put this beautiful quote from T.S. Eliot in the published text, and I think it gives us a wonderful insight into what the play explores. “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past.” He says it better than I could!

CM: What attracted you to this piece? What made you want to direct it? How did you come across it?
JM: I worked with Fiona a few years ago when I was the resident assistant director at the Finborough. I assisted David Mercatali on Fiona’s first ever professionally produced play, the Papatango Prize-winning ‘Coolatully’. ‘Abigail’ was actually written before ‘Coolatully’ but it was never produced. Fiona tells me it has almost had productions but for whatever reason, they’ve fallen through.

I’m so pleased that The Bunker is the place where Abigail has come to life. When I read an earlier draft, as I was looking for the play to close our inaugural season, it took my breath away. It’s difficult to articulate because the reaction was so visceral. I knew that I had to programme the play and that I had to direct it. The play has been buzzing in my head ever since that first reading.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?
JM: Fiona is one of the most thoughtful, precise, and daring writers I have had the fortune of working with. I think Fiona would agree, though, that the focus ought to be on her work as a writer and not her as a person. There’s a reason we aren’t on stage ourselves!

CM: Can you also tell us a bit about the performers, and how you went about casting them?
JM: Casting a younger woman opposite an older man is an intriguing casting challenge, especially since the play revolves around their romantic relationship. Chemistry is key but also I crave to work with actors who are risky, dangerous, and electric to watch. Like the visceral response I had to the play itself, I find myself having very intense gut reactions to actors when they walk into the audition room. With both Tia Bannon, who plays the woman, and Mark Rose, who plays the man, they walked into the audition room and before they had even stepped into the audition scene, I was intrigued and excited by them as people. That’s something you can’t contrive, real and raw humanity.

CM: Of course, as well as being the director of this show, you are the artistic director of the venue. Can you tell us a bit more about The Bunker, how it came into being, and its ethos?
JM: The Bunker opened last year in the shell of an underground car park that I transformed with producer Joel Fisher. ‘Abigail’ is the closing show of our inaugural season, which included the transfer of ‘Skin A Cat’, the London premiere of a Philip Ridley play ‘Tonight with Donny Stixx’ and new British musical ‘Muted’. At its core, The Bunker is about bringing ambitious artists into close contact with adventurous audiences, and providing a night of entertainment that lasts beyond the show itself.

CM: Can you tell us about the other events accompanying the run of the play?
JM: As part of The Bunker ethos, we programme a series of free events and activities around the main house show that happen after each performance, and are free and open to ticket holders that evening. Over ‘Abigail’ we have scratch runs of plays in response to the piece, we have musical responses, and dance performances. There’s quite an eclectic mix happening across January, so no night at The Bunker will be the same.

CM: What’s coming up next at The Bunker?
JM: On Monday nights this month we have an incredible dancer, Kane De Ricca, performing ‘Time’, his solo tap show. That’s going to be something special. Then after ‘Abigail’ closes we are welcoming in Phosphorus Theatre for three nights of ‘Dear Home Office’ that tells the story of eight male refugees living in London. The piece is created and performed by the young men themselves, and their enthusiasm to share their stories is infectious. I cannot wait for them to be in The Bunker.

Then we launch into the first show of our second season, which is a new adaptation of the Schnitzler classic ‘La Ronde’, that sees 4 actors choose their parts each night based on the spin of a wheel or the roll of the dice.

CM: What ambitions do you have for it in the long term?
JM: I hope The Bunker continues to be a home for artists. That’s the most important thing for me, that no matter how we grow and expand, the work and the artists and the audience remain at the core of what we are doing.

‘Abigail’ is on at The Bunker until 4 Feb, see this page here for info and to book.

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Photo: Simon Paris