Abigail’s Party

by Mike Leigh

22nd – 24th October 1987

Originally screened as part of BBC’s Play for Today series in 1977, Abigail’s Party is among Mike Leigh’s most celebrated pieces The Abigail of the title never appears — rather, the dull thud of her lively teenage party forms a distant backdrop (and contrast) to an excruciating evening of chilled red wine, olives and the music of Demis Roussos.

The characters turn the screw of embarrassment through a series of too-true-to-life exchanges of dialogue, the stuff of all our collective worst memories of encounters with neighbours, aunts and office colleagues. Often misread as a satirical parade of suburban grotesques, Abigail’s Party probes deeper than that, touching on nerves of anxiety and repression that throb behind the net curtains of modern England, culminating not in farce but tragedy…

abigail prog

The Cast

Beverly: Elizabeth Saxton
Laurence: Paul Shave
Angela: Brenda Prior
Tony: H Connolly
Susan: Marianne Smith

Produced by Mary Warrington

Newbury Weekly News review

Ghastly gathering provides some excellent theatre

Abigail’s Party, presented by Compton Players, is a play that is not perhaps to everyone’s taste. The awful characters, and the way they behave either makes one squirm, or laugh. Happily, I fall into the latter category, as did most of the audience, which means that the cast should feel that their splendid efforts were worthwhile.

Devised by Mike Leigh, this play was originally developed in rehearsal, which makes some of the dialogue very commonplace and occasionally banal. This is intentional, and provides much of the humour, but it can present problems for the actors. However, the cast coped well, and apart from a few pauses which did slow the action, producer Mary Warrington captured the spirit of the piece, and drew some notable performances from the small but well balanced cast.

Elizabeth Saxton as the ghastly Beverly tackled her massive role skilfully and with a great feel for the part – highly enjoyable performance. Paul Shave as Laurence, the more reserved husband, acted well and gave tension to his role, but he needed to speak up, especially at the beginning.

Brenda Prior as Angela, the visiting neighbour, gave a smashing portrayal, and H Connolly (Tony); delivered his few but telling lines with good timing and humour. Marianne Smith as Susan, mother of the said Abigail, who is having the unseen (but heard) party next door, showed a reserve and class which contrasted beautifully with the insensitivity of the others. The final scene, which is both dramatic and funny (why do we laugh at the misfortunes of others?) was well handled, and proved a stunning end to the production.

Technically there are few problems with this play, but the music cues were well timed. However, the set was unconvincing and needed more care in its painting and finishing. A small point this, and it in no way spoiled a most creditable and hugely enjoyable production.