The play on at Malvern Theatres last week was a new production of Abigail’s Party, the Mike Leigh classic. I’ve heard a lot about it, but had never seen it. It is famous for being largely improvised, with the original cast making it up in a series of workshops with the director. So I booked myself a standby seat for the matinee performance, and went along to see what all the fuss was about.
First impressions were good – the “curtain” was in the form of the front of a 70’s house, with a big picture window into the living room. As the audience filed in to their seats, we could see the main character, Beverly, getting ready for her party – setting out the cheesy-pineapple sticks and plumping up the cushions.
I found the play itself to be a bit of a slow-burner. Beverly was hosting the Drinks Do from Hell, whilst next door her neighbour’s daughter, Abigail, was holding her first grown-up party which was rapidly getting out of hand. Beverly was a monstrous character – shallow, bullying, selfish, and oblivious to the effect she had on her guests. I did think about leaving at the interval, but decided I ought to stick it out. I was glad I did – the second half was better than the first, with the tension being ratcheted up to breaking point. Class prejudices were laid bare, the parlous state of the guests’ marriages were hinted at, and as the characters got more and more drunk, their behaviour towards each other got more unpleasant, with devastating consequences.
Overall, I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed the play. But it’s one of those that sticks in your mind afterwards, which I suppose is a measure of how powerful a piece it is. Certainly worth the price of standby ticket….