Ten minutes into Abigail’s Party, I was thinking, “if only the playwright (renowned British scribe Mike Leigh) had killed off all his characters”. Then we wouldn’t have to sit through the rest of this drivel. I was looking around, disinterested in the material. The whole sorry episode seemed simply mindless nonsense. Fast-forward another 90 minutes and I was right. Most of it was so bland.
This would have to be the worst MTC play I’ve seen in years. Just why they included it in the 2018 season I have no idea. It was a mistake. If they insisted on including a period comedy, then at least make it accessible to an Australian audience. Instead we get a bunch of downright boring Poms.
Desperate to impress, Beverly Moss (Pip Edwards) has invited her neighbours around for a decadent evening of cheese sticks. Her modus operandi is to bully those around her into submission. Her husband, Laurence (Daniel Frederiksen) is a real estate agent who brings home the bacon; but he’s colourless. Beverly and Laurence have their fair share of issues, which escalate during the course of the evening.
In their company are Angela (Zoe Boesen) and Tony Cooper (Benjamin Rigby). They only moved in a couple of weeks ago. Tony used to be a professional soccer player. Quick tempered, he doesn’t always treat Angela well. Then there’s uptight Susan Lawson (Katherine Tonkin); whose 15-year-old daughter – “Abigail” in the play’s title – is having a loud party.
As a copious amount of alcohol is poured, this little “friendly” gathering descends into an evening of social awkwardness, outrageous flirting and put-downs.
Perhaps Abigail’s Partywas funny in its day (it was written in 1977), but that day was a considerable time ago. I dare say tastes have changed considerably. Most of it I didn’t find remotely humorous – just sad and dull. I kept hoping that something of consequence – something to lift the tone –would happen. But apart from an incident 10 minutes from curtain call, nothing did.
So, while Mike Leigh may have set a new standard for audacious domestic parody way back when, the world has moved on. As far as I am concerned, it can take Abigail’s Party with it. It should be marked “never to be seen again”.
The gaudy, colourful set (the set designer is Anna Cordingley), including its centrepiece – all in orange – featuring a shagpile carpet and large bookcase is just there, but I don’t believe it is used to full effect. The performances are predominantly what I would call “try hard”, as distinct from impressive. Nor did the direction from Stephen Nicolazzo (Dangerous Liaisons) impress me.
Abigail’s Party is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until 21 April 2018.
* I saw the first preview performance of the play.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The House of Bernarda Alba (MTC) – theatre review
- Astroman (MTC) – theatre review
- Wild (MTC) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television