- This event has passed.
July 4th - July 8th
It was 1977, the year of skintight polyester, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and Saturday Night Fever. The Sex Pistols were storming up the charts, skateboarding was the latest craze and Angela Rippon danced with Morecambe & Wise. And at Hampstead Theatre in London, Mike Leigh and his cast were putting the finishing touches to Abigail’s Party, ferocious black comedy and landmark of twentieth century theatre.
In her suburban living room, Beverly prepares for the arrival of her guests. She and husband Laurence will play host to neighbours Angela, Tony and Sue. As the alcohol flows and the ‘nibbles’ are handed around, Mike Leigh’s ruthless, achingly funny examination of 1970s British life begins…
Abigail’s Party was premièred at the Hampstead Theatre in 1977, with the role of Beverly being immortalized by Alison Steadman. A record sixteen million people watched its broadcast as Play for Today, underlining its status as a true modern classic and national treasure.
Age Guidance 14+ (contains strong language).
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (including interval)
Photo credit: © Sheila Burnett
Absolutely superb production, cast and crew were brilliant
Saw the Matinee today 8th July, absolutely fabulous, brilliant performance, all stars were brilliant, really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.
West End Best Friend - Rachel Louise Martin
Mike Leigh’s famous play, Abigail’s Party, originated in 1977 at Hampstead Theatre, but it’s characters and comic writing never seem to age.
In a typically suburban living room of the time, we see Beverly preparing to host a get together for neighbours Angela, Tony and Sue. Rebecca Birch appears as Beverly and from her first moments on stage, it is clear to the audience that everything is about her. Birch has her body language, movements and mannerisms crafted to perfection before the dialogue has even begun.
Tom Richardson is Laurence, Beverly’s husband. He has barely stepped through their front door when Beverly begins to nag him. Richardson is the epitome of patronising to the other guests as he lowers himself to speak to them as they are seated in such a manner that you can’t help but be offended on their behalf.
The play is a look at British life in the 1970’s but actually asks, have we really changed that much? It portrays itself more as a study of people’s behaviour. Their selfishness clear to those around them, if not obvious to themselves, and when their inappropriate behaviour is brought to their attention, they only become more inappropriate to try to prove that that’s not what they are!
Alice De-Warrenne and George Readshaw, as neighbouring couple Angela and Tony, are simply hilarious. De-Warrenne captures the naivety of the character in relation to Readshaw’s frustration perfectly. Tony’s annoyance portrayed in mostly one-word answers, he clearly wants to be anywhere but in this room with these people, and to be honest, who could blame him!
Completing the cast is Jo Castleton as Susan, Mother to Abigail, which the play lends its title to, and her party across the road. Susan is sheltering at Beverly’s house whilst the party is in full swing, something she clearly regrets as soon as she arrives.
The set and costume design by Bek Palmer, with lighting design by Matthew Green complement the production immensely and the audience have no doubt that they are being transported back to the style and the time of the piece as soon as it begins.
It’s a collection of characters in one room, who constantly try to one up themselves against each other, escalating into disagreements, sarcastic comments and everyone else’s uncomfortableness, yet none of them want to admit defeat and leave or try to restore harmony to the situation either.
It is obvious why Abigail’s Party is still successful today and it will continue to make audiences laugh at its abysmal characters for years to come.
Cynical and awkward, but hysterically funny!
Showtime! John Phillpott
HOW is it that someone can be so visibly attractive yet utterly repulsive at the same time? Ah, let me introduce you to Beverly, our diabolical dichotomy of a party host.
Alison Steadman’s portrayal of the ghastly, narcissistic social wannabe back in the 1970s was always going to be a hard act to follow.
And the same can be said of the other players in Mike Leigh’s classic tale set among the rapidly emerging nouveau riche of that decade.
But this stellar cast certainly does the writer proud, and particularly so in the case of Rebecca Birch, who effortlessly brings fresh dimensions of horror to the role of the hostess with the least-ness.
Her take on the ghastly Beverly is completely compelling. You can’t take your eyes off her one single moment. Beauty IS the beast.
It’s a bit like watching those wildlife programmes on the telly when you know the lions are going to rip the still-living wildebeest apart, yet not for one moment can you avert your eyes.
Flouncing, flirting, totally oblivious to everything and everyone apart from herself, she struts the stage, a swirling maelstrom of alcohol, rampant hormones and grotesque ostentation.
Yes, this is the party held in hell all right, set against a soundtrack of cheesy pop tunes that almost out-cheese the cheddar and pineapple chunks on sticks. Bring on a plate of strawberry pavlova and I would have been further catapulted back to the 1970s.
There is something of the Roman arena in the slow evisceration of hapless husband Laurence (Tom Richardson), methodically torn apart by his horrendous wife, as airhead Angela (Alice De-Warrenne) and her vegetative state husband Tony (George Readshaw) look on through sightless eyes.
Angela’s relentlessly tedious voice is a creaking door desperately in need of oil on its hinges, while Tony’s sparing, grey monotone responses betray his complete ambivalence as this black comedy unfolds in all its gruesome detail.
This was, of course, the era of a rapidly expanding English middle class. They were first generation bourgeoisie made good, who thought they’d done better than their parents, self-conscientiously advertising the fact in a welter of bad taste plastic furniture, Berni Inn meals of prawn cocktails and steak and chips, washed down with a bottle of Mateus Rose.
Mike Leigh’s genius was to identify the societal seismic shift of the period, and this is why Abigail’s Party works to such devastating effect. Beverly and her guests are players in a modern tragedy, a journey into darkness with no light at the end of the tunnel.
And all the while, the old, established middle class, in the form of the prim and proper Susan (Jo Castleton) watches the social usurpers with a mixture of pity, distaste, and barely disguised disdain.
In other words, pretty much as it is right up to the present day. And that is why Abigail’s Party is such a timeless work.
Curtain Call Reviews
Having seen a London Classic Theatre production last year (Boeing Boeing), I was confident that their next offering, Abigail’s Party would be a great show, however it exceeded my expectations and turned out to be an hilarious evening, that left me wanting more.
The 1977 film Abigail’s Party famously starred a relatively unknown actress, Alison Steadman, who of course has gone on to be one of our best loved performers, and after seeing the show I did wonder whether her character Beverly was the basis for the wonderful Pamela in Gavin & Stacey as there were so many similarities in the characterisation.
The story is set in the 1970’s at a house party held by the exuberant and bubbly Beverly (Rebecca Birch) and her workaholic husband Laurence (Tom Richardson). The play opens on Beverly floating around her front room in a long flowing dress, pouring herself a drink, lighting a cigarette, placing plates of nibbles on the table and dancing to the Donna Summer classic ‘Love To Love You Baby’. Every inch of the staging by Bek Palmer screamed the 1970’s, with plenty of walnut furniture, record player, and beige leather suite.
Beverly was instantly captivating and her energy infectious. Rebecca Birch was faultless in her portrayal throughout the production bringing this suburban housewife to life, slowly becoming more and more inebriated and showing her flirtatious side with new neighbour Tony (George Readshaw). The relationship between Beverly and Laurence was fraught and there was many a snipe here and there in the company of their guests, but it was all about keeping up appearances so these were glossed over.
New neighbours Angela (Alice De-Warrenne) and Tony (George Readshaw) arrive for the evenings entertainment and are instantly thrust into the intoxicating world of Beverly and her attempt to throw a fabulous party. Alice De-Warrenne provided many of the comedic moments throughout the show, with her almost ditzy demeanour. You couldn’t help but love her instantly and she was the standout performer for me. Her husband on the other hand was a man of very little words and George Readshaw was perfect in his dismissive performance of someone who really did not want to be there, that was of course until he had the opportunity to ‘slow dance’ with Beverly!
Completing the party was neighbour Susan (Jo Castleton), the mother of Abigail who was throwing a party and needed to be out of the way. She was very much on edge throughout the evening wondering what her teenage daughter was up to. Susan was every inch the worried mother and divorcee who arrives without lining her stomach not expecting to be so well supplied with endless glasses of gin and tonic from the hostess. The slightly upper crust and well-spoken character was played wonderfully by Castleton.
The alcohol flowed, the house party becomes more intense with both married couples exchanging words, however Beverly still wanted nothing more than to be the life and soul of the party. The very talented cast of 5 provided such fantastic performances and despite the sombre ending, which also had an element of comedy about it, I absolutely wanted an invite to that party by the end of the night.
This show is a riotous romp worthy of a West End stage. It was simple in its staging with just the one set, but the cast were all so investable, it made for a wonderful evening that had great pace and never slowed. Writer Mike Leigh was able to capture the essence of a lonely, frustrated 1970’s housewife so well and I really do hope this show reappears again at some time in the future.
Malvern Observer - Euan Rose
Abigail’s Party originated from an improvisation that turned into a script by Mike Leigh.
This went on the become the classic play that has enthralled audiences with every revival since its’ Hampstead premiere in 1977, which of course made a star of Leigh’s wife, Alison Steadman.
All credit to the marvellous talents of the London Classic Theatre Company then, for breathing new life into what was already a masterpiece of social observation.
It’s a bit like buying your tried and tested brand of tomato soup, looking sceptically at the label which says ‘new and improved flavour, tasting it then saying ‘by golly it is’.
The first thing that hits you when the lights go up is Bek Palmer’s clever set – and the second is her costumes.
Oh boy, how those of us who were aspiring newly-wed homeowners in the 70s cringed at the garish geometric wallpaper, the stark Scandinavian wall unit with obligatory drop leaf cocktail cabinet and – horror of horrors – the colour changing fibreglass lamps.
Costume wise cue the three-piece suits that we thought so cool (are not they back now and tighter than ever?), maxi day dresses, Bacardi rum and extra long cigarettes.
We were the new sophisticated middle class – the upwardly mobile generation that followed the 1960s rebellion with a new order of new money and an urge to spend it.
Rebecca Birch epitomises all this as ‘hostess (she thinks) with the mostest’ in the long red dress, Beverly. Gorgeous, generous and utterly vile!
Tom Richardson is a perfect foil for Beverley’s bile as Laurence, her cohost stressed-out husband.
He is also the wearer of the camel coloured three piece, accessorised with suitcase-sized briefcase.
Alice De-Warrenne is the best ‘Angela’ – the neighbour who says yes to everything from a never-ending booze binge to cheese and pineapple sticks – I’ve ever seen over the years.
De-Warrenne takes the larger than life ‘Ange’ and makes her performance enormous as the alcohol kills any inhibitions she started off with.
George Readshaw oozes charisma as Angela’s ex-professional footballer husband Tony and Jo Castleton completes the perfect company as the mild mannered and intellectual Susan, Abigail’s Mother.
We do not meet Abigail herself, as she is having a party at her mum’s house next door.
Which by all accounts is a teenage ‘snogathon’, getting raunchier by the hour whilst the gathering at Beverly and Laurence’s descends from banter to bitterness as their evening disintegrates.
Director Michael Cabot has definitely put his own stamp on the show and without altering the writer’s dynamics.
Cabot’s vision is several shades darker than its predecessors.
The build to the final meltdown scene set to Beethoven’s fifth symphony is simply sumptuous and with a climax leaving you holding your breath.
There was a great buzz in the house on press night and much loud debate amongst the patrons, many of who seemed to be Abigail aficionados.
Malvern is always one of my favourite theatres to review in and it almost seemed that this production was tailor made for it.
Grab one of the last seats while you can. This is a party well worth going to.
Fairy Powered Productions - Courie Amado Juneau
Like many people, I knew Abigail’s Party from the TV adaptation starring Alison Steadman. With such an iconic performance to live up to, I had high expectations.
Ah, the 70’s – “the decade that taste forgot”. Set (and costume) designer Bek Palmer did a wonderful job recreating the era, immersing us immediately into the world (and psyches) of our hosts for the evening…
….and from word go Beverly set her stall out, boogeying whilst laying out the nibbles, glamorously decked out like the movie queen she knows she is in her orange evening dress. Rebecca Birch gave a winning performance of this cracked actress who conveys all the surface sheen and glamour of the thoroughly modern woman whilst being as frail as gold leaf on the inside. I really loved the small details In her portrayal. A different take from Steadman’s – neither better nor worse. Slightly more sexual I would say and less smarmy (but not by much). Great (two thumbs up) – truly cringeworthy.
Bev’s frustration lashes out mostly at her husband Laurence. Actor Tom Richardson’s performance was nicely nuanced – I really liked his various attitudes towards the guests invading his house. His pent up frustration, held in check with just a little escaping through the cracks, was particularly effective when it did eventually explode.
The first guests, Angela and Tony, provide the perfect canvas for Bev to play out her fantasies. Alice De-Warrenne was hilarious as Angela, wonderfully off kilter, it was a comedy tour de force, not least that voice and lack of etiquette! George Readshaw played her husband Tony with perfect pacing and barely held rage. Less was more with Tony and I loved it.
The last guest, Susan, Abigail’s mum who has been ousted from her house so that her daughter can have the eponymous party, is hard put upon by life and the overpowering Bev. The normal in the middle of the madness. Brilliantly underplayed (and I mean that as a compliment) by the wonderful Jo Castleton.
I wonder how close this production was to the original stage play. For instance, there was different music to the TV version I knew – no Demis Roussos. There was particularly brilliant use of Beethoven’s 5th opening movement, the “fate” theme, used to comi-tragic effect.
Each actor portrayed perfect range within the madness of their characters and situations as they unravel during the evening, everyone doing a stellar job of conveying the tension, drama, pathos and tragedy! I really loved Bev and Angela getting progressively more drunk and Angela’s use of props. The director’s use of the male cast when moving the sofa was masterful, (Tony with one hand, Laurence with 2) like Rams butting horns.
A wonderful play with something for everyone; nostalgia for those who remember this seminal, heady decade and fascination and wonderment for others (perhaps younger) at the ghastly fashions, music, décor and attitudes. But from whichever angle you come at it, it’s a fabulous night out being a fly on the wall of this excruciating soirée and one that I would recommend to everyone. Top marks to all concerned – terrific!
What's On Worcestershire - Sue Hull
A revival of Mike Leigh’s celebrated 1977 play - best remembered from its classic television version starring Leigh’s wife at the time, Alison Steadman - Abigail’s Party is at Malvern this week as it nears the end of its UK tour.
A suburban situation comedy of manners and a ruthless satire on the aspirations and tastes of a new middle class that was rapidly emerging in British society, the play is very much a time capsule from nearly half a century ago. Hence this excellent London Classic Theatre production comes complete with set, props and costumes that perfectly reflect the dubious tastes of the 1970s: obligatory geometric wallpaper, an orange leather suite, a fibre optic lamp, vinyl classics playing on a record player, cheese and pineapple served on cocktail sticks, and fabulous clothes and hairstyles.
Beverly (Rebecca Birch) and her workaholic husband, Laurence (Tom Richardson), are throwing a small party for their less-affluent neighbours, Angela (Alice De-Warrenne) and Tony (George Readshaw), who are just starting out on the property ladder. Susan (Jo Castleton) has been invited, too. A slightly older divorcee, she has a 15-year-old daughter named Abigail, who is throwing her own rather more raucous party at the family home nearby.
Beverly and Laurence’s little soiree starts innocently enough as the near-strangers gather and chat. As the evening progresses and the alcohol flows freely, Beverly’s total lack of self-awareness, her overbearing demand that her guests enjoy themselves, and her flagrant flirting with Tony starts to bring out the worst in Laurence.
As even more booze is served, things get louder and increasingly out of hand...
Observing the relationship dynamics and the complex unravelling of the characters makes for exquisitely uncomfortable viewing, offering a smorgasbord of laugh-out-loud and shudderingly cringe-worthy moments.
The five actors work perfectly together throughout, bringing great enthusiasm and energy to their performances. Rebecca Birch in particular is worthy of mention. Not only does she succeed in putting her own stamp on the monstrous Beverly - no easy task, given that Steadman’s tour-de-force performance in the original TV play continues to loom large, even after all these years - she also manages to do so without muscling-out her fellow actors, each of whom revels in the space created for them by her admirably self-disciplined performance.
This edgy and often uncomfortable visit behind the net curtains of mid-1970s suburbia may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a far more relevant work of satire than might initially seem apparent. Our lives today really aren’t all that different. Consider, for example, the use of social media to try and impress our contemporaries by giving the illusion that our lives are perfect. Or dig a little deeper into the unhappy and dysfunctional interactions of the characters, and you quickly realise that the exact same issues continue to blight relationships a near half-century later.
Abigail’s Party has something to offer audience members of all ages, whether you well recall the 1970s in all of its glam garishness, or weren’t even so much as a glint in your parents’ eyes back in the day. Purchase a ticket asap and strap yourself in for an evening of nostalgic time travel and delightfully excruciating theatre.
A View From Behind the Arras - Emma Trimble
The seventies are most definitely back in fashion baby yeah, so grab your bell bottoms and wide collar shirts for an awkward polyester soiree with Mike Leigh’s 1977 comedy Abigail’s Party at Malvern Theatres this week.
Whatever you do though, definitely do not try to match the drinks along with Beverley and Angela, as you won’t make it through the first half and instead be dribbling into the porcelain throne after a cocktail stick or two of cheese and pineapple. That swirling wallpaper won’t help steady your gaze either as the set by Bek Palmer encompasses everything 70s from the rotary phone to the leather, not leather-look, three-piece suite.
Beverly, Rebecca Birch, is dressed up to the nines and loves to love you as she dances provocatively round her house setting up the nibbles ready for the neighbours to arrive.
Husband Laurence, Tom Richardson, arrives home from work late then continues to call clients and is berated by his frustrated wife for forgetting the lagers. Angela, Alice De-Warrenne and Tony, George Readshaw, entangle themselves into the uncomfortable atmosphere as divorcee Sue, Jo Castleton, makes up the final guest and the bad behaviour can commence.
Abigail’s party is actually the backdrop to Beverly’s party and the more inebriated everybody becomes, the raunchier Beverly gets with Tony causing Laurence’s blood pressure to sky rocket, but the real struggles are with Angela, as she tries to pick up her glass with hula hoops on the ends of each finger.
The truth spills out in body language and torrents as dysfunctional relationships are highlighted, class differences and cultural integrity hangs on the balance. Despite nearly fifty years on the stage, Mike Leigh’s script remains relevant, and the in-depth character studies bring verity and reality with an edge of uncomfortable vulnerabilities.