Abigail's Party

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A: Mike Leigh Pf: 1977, London Pb: 1979 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Laurence and Beverly's suburban home, 1970s C: 2m, 3fLaurence is an estate agent, driven to work hard to fulfil the social aspirations of his airheaded wife Beverly. She has created a tasteless suburban home to which they have invited some new neighbours round for drinks, and is annoyed when Laurence has to go out on business. Tony, a computer operator and former footballer, and his wife Angela, a nurse, duly arrive, and Laurence leaves soon after. Eventually they are joined by another neighbour, Susan, a divorcee whose 15-year-old daughter is having a party and does not want her mother there. Laurence arrives back and his reports about Abigail's party ‘hotting up’ make Susan very anxious. As they get drunk, Beverly dances with pathetic sensuality, and Laurence leaps up to go with Tony to check on the party. Susan feels ill and has to be sick. Laurence returns without Tony, who has some fun with the teenagers before reappearing. Tensions mount. Beverly dances with Tony, Laurence with Angela and Susan. As Laurence gets more and more agitated about Beverly, he has a heart attack. An ambulance is called, but Laurence dies while Beverly prattles on mindlessly.

A: Mike Leigh Pf: 1977, London Pb: 1979 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Laurence and Beverly's suburban home, 1970s C: 2m, 3f

The most interesting aspect of Mike Leigh's plays is that he arrives at them almost entirely through improvisation. Actors are given the outlines of a role, and Leigh works with them individually, developing their character until they are ready to interact with the other characters in the piece. Out of these exchanges, a script then develops. While making for cringingly accurate characterization, there is a danger of giving character primacy over plot, and all too often, as here, one has an uncomfortable sense of the actors sneering at their characters.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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Mike Leigh (b. 1943)

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