Newest Review: ... etiquette. The couple who are hosting the party are Beverley, played by the quite excellent Alison Steadman and Lawrence who is played by... more
"And don't foget those lagers, lawrence!"
Abigail's Party (BBC) (DVD)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Abigail's Party (BBC) (DVD)
Advantages: Superb acting and writing
Disadvantages: Can't stop quoting it
The entire action takes place in the living room of Lawrence and Beverley's semi in the heart of suburbia. As the play opens, Beverley is putting on some music and pouring herself a gin and tonic to get herself in the party mood. Lawrence has just arrived home from work; he is stressed and tired but Beverley won't let him rest. They're having friends round for drinks and Lawrence needs to go out to buy some more bottles.
Their first guests are a couple who have recently moved into the area. Angela and Tony are an odd couple. She is wishy washy, agreeing with everything the more vocal Beverley has to say, he is surly and clearly doesn't want to be there. He positively bristles at the embarrassing things his wife says.
Their other guest is Sue, another neighbour. The reason for the group's soiree is that Sue's teenage daughter, Abigail, is holding a party or her birthday at home. Beverley has persuaded Sue that everything will be Ok and that she should spend the evening with them to avoid the noise and not cramp Abigail's style.
The group are not natural friends. having little in common other than being neighbours. Conversation is strained, brash and boastful Beverley becomes lewd and lascivious as she gets more and more drunk. She pouts and poses in front of Tony and the sexual tension between the two is tangible. Ange meanwhile prattles away telling everyone the same things and poor Sue sits quietly worrying about what is going on at home. Beverley, who claims to be supporting Sue, drops in comments about teenagers and how she behaved when she was Abigail's age - naturally this does not serve to reassure Sue.
Lawrence meanwhile is becoming increasingly hot under the collar. After a stressful day at work the last thing he wants to do is listen to Beverley trying to impress the neighbours. Lawrence sees through Beverley but he is either too tired or too cowardly to stand up to her. He lets her belittle him in front of strangers and when he tries to respond with sarcasm to her nagging, it is wasted because the guests, except for Sue, are too drunk to appreciate it.
The night goes from bad to worse and reaches its denouement in a startling but perhaps not fully unexpected way.
Alison Steadman steals the show as Beverley. In other roles I have felt she has over-acted but here she is pefect. The part suits her down to the ground. Alison Steadman shows Beverley for waht she is - common, at times vulgar, a woman who is interested only in outward appearances who lacks refinement and taste although she considers herself to be at the forefront of sophistication.
Tim Stern plays Lawrence - beleaguered, stressed and over-worked, bullied by his domineering wife and forced to work hard to provide for his money mad wife. He too puts in a fine performance.
Janine Duvitski plays the tedious and naive Ange. She is simpering but eager to please and her willingness to be so agreeable could be read as a wish to fit in and make friends in the neighbourhood.
John Salthouse is the brooding Tony, a man who seems, for the most part, to be a coiled spring ready to explode at any second. He has long periods of silence which suddenly culminate in a scathing attack on his wife.
Sue is played by Harriet Reynolds. This is another terrific performance but the character is more understated than the other roles and she has fewer real comedy moments. Sue is completely the antithesis of the shallow Beverley and the bland Ange.
A COMEDY OF MODERN MANNERS
I have heard it said that "Abigail's Party" is very dated but I would argue strongly against this position. Indeed, the outfits are dated but the situation is not - five adults "enjoying" an evening together, discussing buying houses, music, work, their children.
Two things make this play stand out. One is the combination of superb acting and Mike Leigh's expert direction. The other is the writing. There are some fantastic lines and this is observational comedy at its very best. I could list so many lines from the play but I wouldn't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it but may be inpsired to seek out a copy on video and I would find it difficult to stop at just a couple of examples. One of my favourites, though, is one of Beverley's lines. She is trying to persuade Lawrence to play a Demis Roussous record. Lawrence is dead set against the idea but when she has nagged him into submission she starts floating around the lounge to the music and says "He's great isn't he Ange? And he doesn't sound fat!"
"Abigail's Party" is a brilliant example of the "tragi-comic". Each character's inadequacies are laid bare but the humour isn't mocking. It is somehow touching and terrifying at the same time. Beverley's behaviour makes you cringe but it makes you feel for Lawrence. Ange's feeble attempts at conversation are laughable but Tony's attitude towards her is cruel and heartless, she is his wife after all.
I am a big fan of Mike Leigh's work - "Nuts in May", "High Hopes" and "Life is Beautiful" are amongst my favourite films but this will always be top of the pile for me. "Abigail's Party " is the type of film where you notice something new with each viewing - a previously unheard line or a bit of comedy "business", a facial expression or a posture. It is as fresh today as it was in 1977 when it was first screened thanks to great acting and a fantastic script.
This would appeal to anyone who enjoys quality writing, black comedy and thinks gin is "a nice drink". To find out why you can buy "Abigail's Party" on DVD through amazon.co.uk priced from 12.96 Pounds or on video priced from 6.00 Pounds.
Summary: A timeless televisual treat