‘Abigail’s Party’ by Mike Leigh

 

Directed by Leo Appleton

 

Read through – Monday 3rd February, 19:30, HTC Rehearsal Rooms

Audition – Monday 10th February, 19:30, HTC Rehearsal Rooms

 

Rehearsals - will take place on Sundays (daytime) and Tuesday and Thursday evenings from Sunday 23rd February

Performances Wednesday 29th April – Saturday 2nd May at the Victoria Hall Theatre

 

Abigail's Party is a suburban situation comedy of manners, and a satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. Devised by playwright Mike Leigh, it was first performed in 1977, and has become a classic 1970s period piece. The play takes place one evening at the home of Beverley and Lawrence Moss in suburban Romford. Beverly has invited her new neighbours, Angela and Tony Cooper, who have moved into the road just two weeks ago, over for drinks. She has also invited her neighbour Susan (Sue), divorced for three years, whose fifteen-year-old daughter Abigail is holding a party at home. Beverly's husband Laurence comes home late from work, just before the guests arrive. The gathering starts off in a stiff, insensitive, British middle-class way as the virtual strangers tentatively gather, until Beverly and Laurence start sniping at each other. As Beverly serves more drinks and the alcohol takes effect, Beverly flirts more and more overtly with Tony, as Laurence sits impotently by. The evening’s events continue over a stack of cheesy-pineapple sticks, lots of awkward small talk and plenty of alcohol. Consequently, the appalling host’s soiree soon descends into chaos. As the sniping begins, this delicious comedy cracks open social climbing suburbia to savagely funny effect.

PLEASE NOTE: All the characters smoke and this is referenced throughout the play, so actors must be comfortable with smoking either real cigarettes (and cigars for the males) or herbal cigarettes.

 

Beverly Moss  (playing age 30s)

A former department store cosmetics demonstrator, "a quondam beautician", Beverley has failed her driving test three times. During the play, she flirts with Tony and is always trying to impress her guests. She considers her taste in music (Jose Feliciano, Demis Roussos, Tom Jones) and art (kitsch erotica) to be every bit as good as that of her husband. Immensely proud of her home, she nonetheless admits that she cannot use the gadgets in her kitchen. Beverly throughout the night offers her guests drinks and cigarettes (despite the fact that Tony and Angela have recently given up), which they usually refuse but end up taking due to her being unable to take no for an answer. Beverly effectively forces her guests to agree with her on most topics, for instance on the music they should listen to, or whether olives should be served, in each instance using their apparent consensus to score points with her husband. Mike Leigh himself described Beverly as "an aspirational working class girl who is totally preoccupied with appearances and received notions of behaviour and taste. A bundle of contradictions, she espouses the idea of people freely enjoying themselves, yet endlessly bullies everybody into doing what she wrongly thinks they'll enjoy, or what is good for them. But, while she may be perceived as monstrous, she is in fact vulnerable, insecure and sad".

 

Laurence Moss (playing age 30s)

Laurence is an estate agent with "Wibley Webb". He is Beverly's husband, and the pair frequently argue. He aspires to the finer things in life: leather-bound Shakespeare (which he thinks "can't be read"), prints of Van Gogh and Lowry paintings, and Beethoven, which he forces on his guests at unfortunate moments. He seems powerless to compete with Beverly's more flamboyant persona, and compensates by working too much, as his wife points out on several occasions. While Laurence starts off behaving normally during the party, as he becomes increasingly hen-pecked by his wife, he begins to act in a more neurotic manner, to the point where he too becomes an annoyance to his guests. While Susan welcomes the increasing "cosmopolitanism" of the area, Laurence does not.

 

Tony Cooper (playing age 30s)

Tony works in computing, merely as a computer operator. He hadn’t always worked in this field though. As his wife twice points out, he used to play professional football for Crystal Palace but it "didn't work out". Tony is quiet throughout most of the play, usually appearing uneasy and giving one-word answers, but towards the end he becomes somewhat irate and quick-tempered, particularly with his wife. Beverly flirts with him in the second half of the play, much to Laurence's annoyance. At one point Beverly asks Angela if he is violent. "No, he's not violent. Just a bit nasty. Like, the other day, he said to me, he'd like to sellotape my mouth. And that's not very nice, is it?" "It certainly isn't, Ange!" says Beverly. Leigh later attributed Tony's aggression to an underlying shyness and self-consciousness.

 

Angela Cooper (playing age 30s)

Tony's wife, Angela, who works as a nurse, appears very meek and somewhat childlike, unintelligent and tactless. She cannot drive, as Tony does not wish her to do so. Interested in the mundane and commonplace, much to her husband's annoyance, she comes into her own when Sue feels queasy and after Laurence suffers a heart attack. Leigh noted that "underneath Angela's apparent silliness is the tough, practical reliability of an experienced working nurse".

 

Susan Lawson (playing age late 30s / 40s)

Sue was getting divorced at the same time the other characters were getting married, as pointed out by Angela. She is a quiet character who does not really have the courage to say no. Sue represents the middle class, being the ex-wife of an architect and living in one of the older houses on the street. She also brings a bottle of wine, and has not yet eaten, indicating that she is expecting dinner, as opposed to an extended evening of drinks. She is also the only one of the three women visibly not "dressed-up" for the gathering, perhaps indicating that she would rather be elsewhere. Throughout the play, Laurence attempts to find common ground with her. As originally cast, she towers over the diminutive Laurence, and Beverly's exhortations for her to dance with him only compound her awkwardness.

 

For further information about anything to do with the auditions and the production, please email Leo at leoappleton@googlemail.com