Abigail's Party
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21 October 2006
Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, Carshalton

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 perform.

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.

Stephen Macvicar