In an unusual move, the Queen’s Theatre are featuring two plays, presumably on alternate nights, during the same time span.
Mike Leigh’s much performed Abigail’s Party and Abi, a new production written by Atiha Sen Gupta, a contemporary response to Abigail’s Party. Both plays are worth watching, preferably in chronological order.
Abigail’s Party, set in the Moss’ living room in 1977 ‘theoretical Romford’, features two couples, Beverly and Laurence Moss and Angela and Tony Cooper, as well as divorced neighbour Sue. They all meet up whilst Sue’s daughter, Abigail, holds a rather lively teenage party a few doors down. You never actually witness the party but you can certainly hear the loud music! The play looks at the prejudices and aspirations of lower middle class couples during the seventies, to great comic and ultimately tragic effect. Like most of Mike Leigh’s work, it is a masterpiece in portraying the tensions between ordinary people and their foibles.
People of a certain age, myself included, will always compare any production of Abigail’s Party with the 1977 Play For Today TV production. In that respect, this production stands up very well; Melanie Gutteridge is very convincing as the domineering, snobbish Beverly; Likewise Christopher Staines as stressed out, workaholic Laurence. Liam Bergin and Amy Downham, as the Coopers, effectively portray their underlying contempt for each other and Susie Emmett comes across well as the refined, timid Sue. The late seventies furniture and music – who can forget Demis Roussos – are very authentic and prompted appreciative murmurs from members of the audience of a certain age. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this production.
Abi is a solo performance, approximately an hour long, featuring the original Abigail’s grandaughter, a feisty. potty-mouthed 15 year old schoolgirl who is preparing for a party in her grandmother’s house (the grandmother is in hospital). During the play, Abi talks about what makes a good party (‘A party without music is just a meeting‘), her boyfriend Luke and how she is being pressured into sending ‘chest shots’ to him. She slags off Shakespeare (‘Much About Nothing – the clue’s in the title’). Finally, she surmises who her grandfather was – who she never knew – and comes to a disturbing conclusion. The play deals effectively with the problems and peer pressures facing teenagers today. There are numerous references to the characters in Abigail’s Party. Safiy ya Ingar plays Abi with great energy and humour. I found it to be a very entertaining and enjoyable play.
Both Abigail’s Party and Abi run until 22nd September. Check the theatre website or box office for details of times and dates. There is a discount if you book to watch both plays.