Review: Abigail's Party at People's Theatre

Mike Leigh's play is centred around social aspirations and class pretension.

Carly Horne
21st February 2022
Image credit: Twitter @NETheatre
Abigail's Party is, at its core, a production of uncomfortable silences and displays of aggressive hospitality. Moreso does Mike Leigh's classic depict a satirical glance at Britain's emerging middle-classes in the 1970s, a label which begins to peel away throughout the evening (after one too many gin and tonics).

Despite what the title says, we do not find ourselves witness to Abigail's party. Instead, we are a few doors down with the over-bearing hostess, Beverly (Anna Dobson) and her extremely stressed-out husband, Laurence (Sean Burnside). Joining the chaotic evening are new neighbours Angela (Emma Robson) and Tony (Mark Burden), the former who seems to yearn to please Beverley and the latter who would rather be anywhere else. Lastly is mild-mannered and genuinely middle-class Sue (Alison Carr), whose daughter, Abigail, is hosting the titular party.

Abigail's Party is evidently a play of the 1970s. From the obnoxious retro wallpaper adorning the set and the music of Demis Roussos adding ambience to the awkward evening and Beverley's offering of cheese and pineapple on a stick. It was Angela's boast of acquiring her home for £21,000 that filled my heart with the most sadness - if only this generation should be so lucky.

Image credit: Twitter @peoplestheatre

In a play centred around social aspirations and class pretension, it makes sense that no one is particularly happy with their lot. While Sue is repeatedly reminded of her status as a divorced woman, Beverly seems to want more than her nice house and her safe husband. Though patronising Sue and making moves on Angela's husband throughout the play, it becomes clear towards the end how much Beverly actually values those things which she has taken for granted.

Abigail's Party is far from a plot-driven drama, relying more on the comedy of painful exchanges than the typical style of storytelling one might be used to. And while the cast and crew put on a wonderful show, I feel like this was a play I was just too young to appreciate.

Mike Leigh's original production was unusual in that the actors were responsible for much of the development of the characters - leaving big shoes to be filled in any future production. In this particular revival, Anna Dobson's portrayal as Beverly was particularly strong. Annoying and socially oblivious as Beverly, Dobson helped to add to the chaos unfolding throughout the evening. Equally, Emma Robson as Angela added a gooseberry to the evening's mix, awkward and subdued against Beverly's loud and selfish persona.

All-in-all, Beverly's party truly was a party from hell. From drunken vomiting and inappropriate dancing to screaming over erotic art and a panicked call to the ambulance service - it's safe to say that this party would be more awkward as an attendee than as an audience member.

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