GUEST BLOG: ABIGAIL, Fury Theatre’s new play inspired by the Salem Witch Trials

Stephen Gillard

Female-led Fury Theatre are about to open their new play, ABIGAIL, a feminist retelling of the Salem Witch Trials which we are very much looking forward to reviewing in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, we invited Fury to write a guest blog about the production. In this blog, co-writer and director Stephen Gillard tells us all about the process of creating ABIGAIL.

Trigger warning: This article contains discussion of coercion, abusive relationships, racism and slavery. 

Writing about history can be a tricky business. Writing about unknown history even more so. Writing about a known character from history in an unknown setting with known and unknown consequences…that’s so tricky you might want to have a lie down and something to take the headache away. 

How do you make it relevant? What are you asking? Why are you telling this story? These are all questions we were faced with when we set out to write ABIGAIL. 

For context, ABIGAIL is a new stage-play, written by Stephen Gillard and Laura Turner for Fury Theatre, debuting at The Space Theatre on The Isle of Dogs in London. Running from the 3rd May to the 7th May, the play looks at the events of Abigail Williams’ life after the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. 

The first challenge: what do we know? All we really have in the historical record is an apocryphal tale that she may have run away to Boston Massachusetts and died, aged 18, as a prostitute, having stolen a large sum of money from her uncle, but there is only circumstantial evidence to back that up. There’s no grave, no record of her death. 

So, what happened to this (in)famous young woman after the lies that killed so many of her fellow villagers fell apart and any chance of returning to a “normal” life evaporated? 

There’s almost no doubt that Abigail would have been a vulnerable, if canny, young woman. She was on the run, with no male “security,” in a world that gave little to no status to women and almost no legal protection. How did she lose all the money she stole and end up dying alone after only a few years on the run?

Our play sets out to try and fill in some of these blanks and posit the question; how far have we come in the fight for women’s rights and the protection of abused young people? Very possibly not as far as we think we have. 

Abigail was (indeed is, within our play) a deeply flawed human. We are not looking to cast her as a heroine, but as a complex three-dimensional character, struggling to come to terms with who and what she is.

She is the perpetrator and the victim. She says and does terrible things but is preyed upon by cunning and accomplished predators as she seeks her way in the world. She encounters men such as our antagonist Jack – a character of our invention – who are not moustache-twirling, tie-you-to-train-tracks villains, but charismatic, skilled readers of people. Men who know precisely what to say to a person to lead them down the path they have picked out for them. We want to show that intelligence and savvy are not at all relevant when it comes to how easy it can be to be trapped in a cycle of abuse and coercion.     

Hopefully, the running theme, that anyone who watches Abigail will connect with, is the link between experiences of the past to modern, indeed personal, experiences in their own lives. Around the world the legal systems and the societal framework consistently fails women, denying them agency and control, even to the extent of their own reproductive systems. The media routinely and callously builds women up and gleefully destroys them. On one hand it will call for the end to control (conservatorships) while plastering its pages with leering exposes on meltdowns (shaven heads) to a baying crowd. We may not hang (quite as many) women for their perceived power or success, but we certainly metaphorically crucify them with wild abandon. 

1692 – 2022: how far have we actually come? 

ABIGAIL plays at The Space, Isle of Dogs, 3rd – 7th May with performances each night at 8pm and a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. The play will be livestreamed at 8pm on 5th May and available on demand for 2 weeks after that. Tickets for all performances can be purchased here: