Review: Abigail’s Party 40th Anniversary Edition by Mike Leigh

Forty years on from its first performance at the Hampstead Theatre and original screening on BBC1 soon after, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party – telling of two marriages spectacularly unravelling at an awkward neighbourhood drinks party – remains a pinnacle of British theatre.

Here is the original script, complete with a new introduction by Mike Leigh describing the play’s unlikely genesis, how it came to be made and where he believes it fits within his oeuvre as one of the country’s leading writers and directors.

What I Thought:
Since I am (just) too young to remember the 70s, Abigail’s Party has always been a play I have loved from TV repeats, rather than a sense of nostalgia.

I saw the play a few years ago on tour and, while it was a good production, it didn’t even come close to the Play for Today TV film starring Alison Steadman as Beverley – perhaps because this was shot with most of the original cast who workshopped and improvised these characters until they really inhibited their skin – a much different process to learning the lines many years later.

This new, 40th Anniversary edition, of the play script was a real pleasure to read. It’s only a slim volume, but alongside the text, there is a new introduction by Mike Leigh, looking at the origins of the play, its original run and subsequent TV film, plus a short discussion on where the play went on to have a life of its own.

I know it’s always better to see plays in stage, rather than try and read the scripts, but in some cases, that is the only way to access some brilliant works of theatre. Thankfully though, Abigail’s Party is always ripe for a revival and alongside this new edition of the script, the play is about to embark on tour starring Amanda Abbingdon as Beverley – looking at some of the preview photos, it already looks like they have captured the real spirit of the play.

The new edition of Abigail’s Party – with suitably lurid cover – is now available from Penguin.

Note: I was sent a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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