The next production by the Company of Ten will take audiences back to the 1970’s, with one of the best loved comedies of the time, Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh.
Like most of Leigh’s projects, Abigail’s Party was devised by the cast developing their characters and the story through improvisation. One of the most recognised names in British theatre, Mike Leigh has also found considerable success as a film director, He won a BAFTA with Vera Drake and Mr. Turner was nominated for an Academy Award.
Abigail’s Party starred Alison Steadman, who was married to Leigh at the time. The play opened at the Hampstead Theatre in 1977, and was so popular it ran for 104 performances. It was then famously televised as a Play For Today at the BBC, and the rest is history.
Beverly, an ex-department store cosmetics demonstrator, is married to Laurence, a successful but over-worked estate agent. They are part of the new suburban middle class, flush with money and pretensions of grandeur. They invite their new neighbours Angela, a nurse, and Tony a computer operator, over for drinks. They also ask Susan from next door. She is a divorcee, and her 15 year old daughter, Abigail, whom we never see, is having a party.
The evening starts in a stiff, British middle class way, as they are all virtual strangers, but Laurence is late home, and from the start Beverly undermines him. Determined to better himself, Laurence, amusingly, is keen to show off what he thinks is his cultural side with his choice of literature and music, even to the point of being condescending to the less successful, and rather repressed, Tony. Beverly on the other hand, has a taste for the kitch. Ater a few drinks, and with no inhibitions, Beverly forces her guests to drink and smoke far more than they want. What follows is cringeingly funny, as Beverly bulldozes her guests into agreeing with her as she snipes at Laurence, while flirting shamelessly with Tony, scoring points at will.
As to their guests, Angela seems meek and somewhat childlike. Her banal stories are very amusing, and made more so because they annoy Tony. One suspects he bullies her at home. A failed professional footballer, Tony is quiet for much of the play, but when he loses his temper he shows a nasty side. Angela, on the other hand, heroically takes control when things get out of hand. Lastly, Susan is a quiet character, the ex-wife of an architect and more middle-class than any of them. She would clearly rather not be there, but does not have the courage to say no.
As the alcohol takes effect, the audience is treated to an hilarious fly-on-the-wall view of a relentlessly uncomfortable parade of strained relationships and awkward social situations, culminating in a shocking, though painfully funny, denoument. According to director Philip Reardon rehearsals have been great fun. “I often found it hard to stifle my laughter long enough to give coherent feedback.” His advice? “Consider yourself cordially invited to join super-host Beverly and her guests at her little soiree, drink another gin and tonic, with ice and lemon obviously, and have a laugh!”.
Performances take place on the Abbey Theatre Main Stage from Friday 11th to Saturday 12th November at 8pm; on Sunday 13th November at 2.30pm; and from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th November at 8pm. The performance on Thursday 17th November will also be audio described. To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.