Play for Today: Season 8, Episode 3

Abigail's Party (1 Nov. 1977)

TV Episode  |   |  Drama
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A TV play based on the Hampstead Theatre production. Beverly has invited her new neighbours, Angela and Tony, over for drinks. She has also asked her divorced neighbour, Sue, because Sue's ... See full summary »

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Title: Abigail's Party (01 Nov 1977)

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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
...
Beverly
Tim Stern ...
Laurence
Janine Duvitski ...
Angela
John Salthouse ...
Tony
Harriet Reynolds ...
Susan
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Storyline

A TV play based on the Hampstead Theatre production. Beverly has invited her new neighbours, Angela and Tony, over for drinks. She has also asked her divorced neighbour, Sue, because Sue's fifteen year-old daughter, Abigail, was holding a party in their house. Beverly's husband, Lawrence comes home late from work, just before the guests arrive. The gathering starts off in a stiff insensitive British middle class way with people who do not know each other, until Beverly and Lawrence start sniping at each other. Written by Will Gilbert

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Drama

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1 November 1977 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Trivia

Alison Steadman based Beverly on a lady she knew whilst at Drama school in Essex, she merged this person with a woman she saw demonstrating a make-up range at a department store who either knowingly or unknowingly humiliated a lady she had plucked from the passing shoppers and telling a watching crowd she had applied her lipstick very badly. See more »

Quotes

Angela: Have you ever tried pilchard curry?
Beverly: No.
Angela: Oh, that's a very economical dish.
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Connections

Featured in Imagine: The One and Only Mike Leigh (2014) See more »

Soundtracks

Forever and Ever
Lyrics by Demis Roussos
Sung by Demis Roussos
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User Reviews

 
Hilarious and horrific in equal measure
30 September 2009 | by (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK) – See all my reviews

Mike Leigh's teleplay Abigail's Party is a character driven portrait of life in the suburbs in 70's Britain. It's about a drinks party hosted by a couple called Beverley and Laurence, attended by guests Ange and Tony, who have newly moved into the street, and Susan, a neighbour whose teenage daughter Abigail is having her own party at her house that same evening.

This is a party from hell. Beverly and Laurence are two of the most appalling hosts imaginable. While she is overbearing and ignorant, he is highly-strung and pretentious. They are two sides of the same coin though; where she likes throwaway pop music he likes classical, where she is fond of tacky erotic art he prefers fine art. At least Beverly's taste seems genuine, Laurence appears to choose things that makes him feel superior but it all seems purely for show, like his collected works of Shakespeare on which he enthuses about the quality of the jacket material, the contents he describes hilariously as unreadable. As the night progresses this pair of idiots battle amongst themselves in front of their guests creating umpteen squirm-inducing moments. The guests themselves are not much better. Ange is simple-minded and irritating, her husband Tony, taciturn and aggressive, while the third guest, the divorcée Susan, is stiff and stand-offish. Together they have the sort of chemistry that ordinarily in life comes with a toxic warning label.

Class is at the heart of much of the drama. Beverly and Laurence are a middle class suburban couple; Ange and Tony represent the lower-middle class, while Susan inhabits the upper-middle. Part of Beverley's reasoning behind the party is to induct Ange and Tony into her social strata. The latter couple are new to the street and seem to be from a lower income bracket; this allows Beverley to patronizingly take Ange under her wing. Susan, on the other hand, does not need to work as she is supported by her architect ex-husband and while she inhabits a level that Beverly aspires to, she clearly is not a happy woman. She still appears to be traumatized by her divorce and she seems to be very self-conscious in company. Although her discomfort in this social gathering does provide the audience with an identification figure of sorts, as most people would feel thoroughly uncomfortable in this car crash of a get-together.

Alison Steadman is tremendous as Beverly. This extremely well-crafted comic character is the dark soul of Abigail's Party. She is alternately fawning and unpleasant, but always selfish. She bullies her guests into doing exactly what she wants at all times, from insisting that everyone listen to the tacky music of Demis Roussos to forcing Ange and Tony to take cigarettes despite the fact they both are in the process of giving up. She forcefully prevents Susan from leaving to check on her daughter despite fuelling the flames of her paranoia by tactlessly implying that the kids would be running riot next door. Alison Steadman nails this character in a way that is firmly believable, she never descends into caricature. The rest of the cast are generally impressive too, the other standout being Janine Duvitski's portrayal of Ange. Through her various bits of inane dialogue, and her husband's gruff responses, she allows the audience to read between the lines and work out that her marriage is a terrible one but like Beverly she is no one-dimensional caricature, as by the end of the film she is the only character who really comes to the fore and ends the piece with any credit. Well-written dramas often confound expectations in this way.

One of the things I love about Abigail's Party is that it's a real period piece. The fashions, décor and music all scream 1977. But the drama is timeless, as the people are believable and the comic moments still subtly effective. It's the skillful mix of comedy with believable drama that is ultimately the key to its enduring success. The film ends in a very dark tone indeed, with the seemingly strong characters becoming weak and vice-versa. This tragicomedy doesn't play by conventional expectations and perhaps this is partly why it's so good.


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