The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
Abigail's Party

Macbeth - part of our heritage - of course it's not something you can actually read.
-- Laurence
Abigail's Party
Elizabeth Berrington as Beverly, Steffan Rhodri as Tony, Jeremy Swift as Laurence and Wendy Nottingham as Susan (Photo: John Haynes)
Twenty five years on, Hampstead Theatre closes its makeshift building prior to next year's opening of the purpose built theatre with a production of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party which opened the theatre in 1977. Leigh went on to have several of his plays produced at Hampstead Theatre and recently has established an international reputation with his films, Secrets and Lies, and about the nineteenth century writers of operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, Topsy Turvy. Abigail's Party was an experiment with five actors who, given character outlines and six weeks of rehearsal went on to improvise the play which is now studied by English schoolchildren for examination at 16 years. The resulting play was broadcast by the BBC as a part of their Play For Today series and Alison Steadman's crass, social aspiring Beverly captured the nation's imagination and spawned many comic imitators of the iconic Seventies hostess. In the audience were many who had seen the original production and the box office has registered an almost unprecedented interest in a revival.

The play, which is set in suburbia, is a comedy of social mores and a study of three marriages, each of them problematic. Abigail of the title is never seen. She is a teenager, the daughter of a neighbour who is having her first unsupervised birthday party while five of her parents' generation gather for an informal drinks party in the home of Beverly (Elizabeth Berrington) and her realtor husband, Laurence (Jeremy Swift). The invited couple are the garrulous but kindly nurse, Angela (Rosie Cavaliero) and Tony (Steffan Rhodri) who barely bothers to disguise his boredom and animosity towards his wife. Into this gathering comes the anxious, middle class divorcee and mother of the partying Abigail, Susan (Wendy Nottingham). Plenty of alcohol later, the cracks appear and the marital facades start to crumble.

Beverly should be the most interesting character. She is predatory, effusive and opinionated but also vulnerable. She has married Laurence for the material life style his highly paid and highly stressful job provides. On her marriage, she says, "If I want anything, new makeup, new dress, new hairdo, he's very generous, the money is there . . . . but apart from that it's just boring." She is the architect of her own unhappiness, a deeply dissatisfied woman. Elizabeth Berrington delivers not her own interpretation of the role but largely an imitation of Alison Steadman as Beverley. The result is a harder edged Beverley whom we have trouble sympathising with when disaster strikes. Jeremy Swift is plausible as the harassed Laurence who tries to juggle his work with Beverley's relentless demands. The twittery Rosie Cavaliero is excellent as she falls into her slightly patronising but very funny, nursing role, ministering to Sue. Wendy Nottingham strikes the right note as Sue, the middle class woman who politely tries to answer Beverley's questions while uncomfortably distancing herself from her less refined neighbours. Steffan Rhodri's monosyllabic Tony seethes moodily at his wife's chatter and shows a potential for violence.

Jonathan Fensom's set recreates the egregious style of the Seventies, the vulgar padded leather suite, the awful brown swirls of the curtains, the bookcase with its book club leather bound volumes in Beverley's tasteless sitting room. David Grindley's direction offers no surprises in this homage to Mike Leigh. We laugh at Beverley's naif attempts at entertaining and her addiction to the romance of Demis Roussos. Although for many this evening is pure nostalgia, the pathos and spontaneity of the original is lost in the ridicule. We look forward to January 2003 and the opening of the new Hampstead Theatre with its commitment to presenting new writing of quality.

Abigail's Party
Written by Mike Leigh
Directed by David Grindley

Designed by Jonathan Fensom
With: Elizabeth Berrington, Jeremy Swift, Rosie Cavaliero, Steffan Rhodri and Wendy Nottingham
Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 3860
Booking to 14th September 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th July 2002 performance at the Hampstead Theatre Swiss Cottage London NW3 (Tube Station: Swiss Cottage)
Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from>