ABIGAIL’S Party by Mike Leigh, one of the nation's best known modern plays, is currently on tour at The Lowry.
It presents an instantly recognisable portrait of the trials of middle class mid-70s suburbia, so unattractive that you can understand the appeal of punk.
There are productions of this play where you rather wish you were at Abigail's party instead of Beverly's, but this isn't one of them.
Beverly [Hannah Waterman] has invited neighbours for drinks to show-off her perfect 70s home: ladder-rack room dividers, shades of brown with flashes of orange and dramatic wallpaper which would look quite trendy today. Her hard working husband, the highly stressed estate agent Laurence [Martin Marquez] has paid for this perfection and Beverley is determined to show it off. Tony [Samuel James] and Angela [Katie Lightfoot], the new neighbours from the 'smaller' houses across the road, arrive first, are supplied with copious drinks, and quickly become “Ange and Tone” as Beverly takes control of the friendship. Divorcee Susan [Emily Raymond] arrives, leaving her fifteen year-old daughter Abigail at home hosting her first teenage party.
These people are not natural friends; they have few common interests, no common skills, and are simply partying together because they live their different lives on the same street. Leigh uses the party gathering as a humorous showcase for the subtleties and pretensions which divide the English middle classes and permit or deny entry.
Beverley is in charge. She dominates her party, dominates husband and guests and dominates the play. Alison Steadman's near perfect tv portrayal in the famous 1977 BBC production is difficult for an audience to dislodge from their minds, along with Demis Roussos, cheesy-pineapple things, and enforced smoking. It presents a challenge for any actress. Hannah Waterman rises to the challenge, giving a Beverly who could still be described as a monster but who suggests internal pain and a shivering uncertainty behind the bright bullying of guests to enjoy themselves, in whatever way Beverly thinks is enjoyment.
Famously we never get to meet Abigail, nor attend her party, though we catch occasional strains of music and hear lurid reports of barely-compatible snogging through the bay window. There are productions of this play where you rather wish you were at Abigail's party instead of Beverly's, but this isn't one of them.
Directors Tom Attenborough and Lindsay Posner have given their cast space to develop all the characters; we're watching a room full of contrasts, but the greatest contrast lies within each individual, scared and confident, experts with layers of ignorance. Lives of quiet desperation?
Thirty five years after the original production this is still worth a second look, or a first look if you're too young to have seen it before.
Abigail’s Party is on at The Lowry until Sat 4 May.
Click here for more information.
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