Theatre Review: Abigail's Party
By Mike Leigh
September 11, 2013
Ghastliness is rarely quite as entertaining as this.
When the desperately social Beverly invites her neighbours over for drinks, nobody is expecting a good time, but they’re all resigned to making the most of it. Social awkwardness plus alcohol: that’s life, after all. So the gin and Bacardi flow, and flow, the remarks fly, the anguish heaves itself around the room, and the unfettered needs of the characters, as they do, come tumbling out. It’s very funny.
First-time director Sam Snedden has assembled a strong comic cast. To be sure, they’re not really stretched – Basement and Silo regulars will have seen Sophie Roberts, Nic Sampson and Simon Vincent do this stuff before – but their talents are put to hilariously good use for all that. Jacque Drew plays counterpoint with a more seriously conceived character, while the whole thing is driven by the faux-majestic, ignorantly snobbish, endlessly awful, apricot chiffon-clad Andi Crown as Beverly. It’s a performance you can’t hide from and, possibly with more than a hint of masochism, you really don’t want to. She’s splendid.
Mike Leigh is better known these days for his movies (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, Naked) but playwriting is where he cut his teeth, and the revival of this play, from 1977, shows his bite has remained disturbingly sharp.
The title, Abigail’s Party, doesn’t refer to this little soiree. Abigail, whom we never meet, is the 15-year-old daughter of one of Beverly’s guests, and she’s holding her own party nearby. While Beverly plays Jose Feliciano, Abigail sends the Sex Pistols thumping up the stairs. And yet none of the adults seems much concerned about Abigail’s party – they all profess to know what’s going on there, and so they do – in their day they’ve been at that party a hundred times themselves.
The thing about life is, you start having fun at Abigail’s party, but then you fill up with anxiety, anger, disappointment and downright fear, and before long you’re just trying to get through an evening at Beverly’s. It’s ghastly, all right, and we’re all in it. A great show.