Thank you very much for inviting me to Chase Theatre
Company’s production of Mike Leigh’s popular play entitled
"Abigail's Party" recently at the Charles Cryer Studio Theatre.
You may or may not know that your show took place during Amateur Theatre
Week. Thanks also to Clare Gollop for arranging my ticket.
The play written by Mike Leigh is a wonderful expose of human nature
albeit solidly set in the 1970’s it brings to life the essences of the
characters in such a way that they are both hilarious and pitiful. The
story line depicts the attempt of the hugely aspirational couple, Beverly
& Laurence, to impress and entertain, over drinks, a clearly less
blessed couple, Angela & Tony and another neighbour, Sue, whose
eponymous daughter Abigail is having a party. The sharply observed
dialogue and characterisations develop through out the play to show how
dysfunctional each couple really is and how miserable every one of the
characters lives really is. The henpecked nature of Laurence’s
relationship with Bev is established immediately. The guests Angela &
Tony arrived to receive the benefit of Bev’s superior knowledge which
occasionally Laurence has to correct, sometimes to Bev’s surprise. The
audience learns that neither couple are particularly happily married, that
Laurence is significantly more cultured than Bev enjoying Shakespeare and
classical music as opposed to Bev who loves Demise Roussos and naďve
sentimental cartoon art. The play builds to a climax having exposed
humorously and forlornly a range of possible story lines but then ends
abruptly with the unexpected death of Laurence.
I think that everyone in the audience, of a certain age, would have
spent a few moments during the play looking at the set and knowing that it
was perfect in every aspect. It absolutely established the play’s period
and provenance. Numerous things come to mind such as; the tan leather
sofa, the fibre optic lamp, the pouffe, the basket chair and who could
forget the chunky marble based lighter. Denis Steer as Director observes
in his programme notes that "We have all met people like these and
perhaps we even recognize a little of ourselves in them". True words
indeed as this production seeped nostalgia from start to finish. I must
confess I wasn't old enough to have been any of those characters in the
70's but I remember my parents hosting such parties. Dreadful three piece
suits, the obligatory sweeping smock dress, annoyingly catchy tunes, the
bad hair days and the cheesy pathetic dancing were all in evidence.
I think Denis and the strong cast caught the mood and the style just
about perfectly. It is of course beautifully written but without strong
interpretations and delivery it would have no real impact. There were
delightfully comical moments, times when the audience felt awkward and the
most difficult emotion to convey, real fear.
The subject matter essentially deals with our class system and
relationships. What appears on the surface is not always what is hidden
below, commonly known as the iceberg effect. It was very interesting to
observe many couples in the audience turn to each at various points
throughout the production acknowledging personal instances where the drama
had hit a nerve or stirred a memory. Hence my reference to nostalgia, the
vast majority of your captivated audience could relate to your production.
For these and other reasons this was a great choice for your society to
In the role of 'Beverley' (or Bev), Clare Gollop had a whale of time
and was able to indulge herself in this gem of a role. The role was of
course made famous by Alison Steadman but Clare was able to put her own
stamp and personality on the role. The effective costume and wig would I'm
sure have helped Clare get into character. Clare moved seamlessly from
snobby, flirtatious hostess to bullied wife with equal assurance. Matt
Carpenter delivered the downtrodden yet culturally superior husband '
Laurence very effectively. His frustrations were convincing as his temper
brewed and when finally unleashed, Matt didn't hold back. The part of
'Angela' was brought to life by Kate Stafford. Kate brought out the humour
and innocence of the part with apparent ease. I strangely likened her to
the childlike character of 'Alice' in The Vicar of Dibley. I can assure
Kate that this is a compliment! I particularly enjoyed Barry Gollop's
performance as Angela's husband 'Tony'. Barry is relatively new to this
'game' and I have seen his performances improve from show to show. This
was in my opinion his best yet. For this particular role less is more as
the character's economy with words is what makes him so appealing. I mean
how could anyone possibly get a word in edgeways with these two female
characters in the room. Rather impressively, Barry maintained his cockney
swagger throughout. The role of 'Susan' is a tough one to deliver as her
dialogue is often stilted and frustrating. I thought Heather Crosskey made
a good fist of this role but I couldn't quite overcome the monosyllabic,
deliberately pronounced nature of her delivery of lines. This is largely
the frailties of the character to be honest. We could certainly feel
sympathy for the character as she was clearly in emotional pain.
I was surprised that any of the characters were able to stand at the
end as there must have been enough alcohol consumed to sink a battleship!
Congratulations to all members of the cast, production team and the
technical team who created a very entertaining evening.