Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party is rich in biting social satire, minute observation, and subtext, as you’d expect.
Abigail, of the play’s title, heard of, never met, is an all too familiar 15 year old. Her out-of-control teenage party, occurring just off-stage, probably appeals more than being the victims at the nightmarish drinks and nibbles hosted by Beverly (Queenie Van De Zandt) for new neighbours Angela (Tara Morice) and Tony (Ben Ager), and another neighbour, Susan (Julie Hudspeth), divorced mum of Abigail. Beverly’s beleaguered, workaholic estate agent husband Lawrence (Brian Meegan) completes the cast.
Tactless Beverly holds court, sarcastically belittling her husband, skewering her guests with repeated, clearly intentional faux pas, and amusing herself at Angela’s expense, feigning friendship while flirting conspicuously with Tony in front of husband Lawrence.
Queenie Van De Zandt’s Beverly was a charismatic monster, her irresistible bitchiness underscored by personal disappointment. Brian Meegan’s Lawrence balanced Beverly’s volatility with surface restraint barely containing a tightly wound spring. Julie Hudspeth encapsulated trapped powerlessness as Susan. Beneath Ben Ager’s quietly controlled Tony, a simmering anger toward his patronizing neighbours was only marginally held at bay. Tara Morice’s Angela was an intriguing character, seemingly naïve, striving to please her new friend, yet convincingly calm under ultimate pressure.
Leigh is a keen observer of, and commentator on, human behavior. Mark Kilmurry’s production serves the play well, keeping it fresh as new, while Graham Maclean’s set - Beverly and Lawrence’s apartment, fits the upwardly mobile 70s couple perfectly.