Review: Abigail’s Party (Precisely Peter Productions)

Abigail’s Party provides a time capsule view into the excesses of the 70’s, playing at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille

Abigail’s Party was Director John Shooter’s first production in Canada. Both Shooter and the play he chose to direct hail from the rolling hills of England. The intimate Backspace at Theatre Passe Muraille was home to Precisely Peter Productions‘ Canadian debut.

Abigail’s Party depicts a small get together of suburban neighbours. It opens with Beverly sitting in her living room waiting on her husband to arrive home from work. Soon after Lawrence gets home, Beverly’s guests arrive and her party gets underway. This sitcom, written by British playwright Mike Leigh, looks at the collapse of two marriages and the stresses of being a single mother.

When this play was first produced it was a major hit. After its first run Abigail’s Party was subsequently put on around the UK to critical acclaim. That was back in 1977. Watching it now I could feel that Abigail’s Party was created for and enjoyed by an earlier generation than mine. It is a 70’s sitcom, but not anything like That 70’s Show. This show was not for me, though it did seem to suit most of the audience who were watching with me. My show partner, having similar taste in theatre to me, chose to leave at intermission.

As a woman in my mid 20’s raised in a city I found it hard to relate to this work. It is from an era of rampant drinking and smoking, two things that are key in my life. In one scene a character is heard driving off after being seen on stage having a drink of whisky. In my limited urban experience these ideals do not exist any more, as a result I found it difficult to watch. If taken as a period piece, a look at what it was like in the 70’s, a piece of historical work, I think I would have had an easier time connecting to the show.

Beverly, I hope, must have been a parody of a suburban wife: Waiting in her best clothes for her husband to arrive home from work, then proceeding to nag him to death. I found her to be mean, manipulative, and a bully. This character is a study of what peer pressure looks like in action. As I sat watching bewildered, the rest of the audience was laughing at her possibly-hilarious antics. Being empathetic with the other characters, I was quite uncomfortable with Beverly’s actions. This is a testament to the fabulous acting abilities of Anna Hardwick and the rest of the cast.

One of the highlights for me was when the underdog character, Lawrence, tried to stand up for himself. I thought “Surely, the single female character would also be getting to this point”. Alas, Sue’s breaking point happened vicariously through a male character. Overall I was disappointed in the writing of the characters, I did not find them representative of the complexities of actual people.

Looking past the script, I appreciate the clean directing and sharp acting of those involved. Part of my dislike comes from the actors doing such a precise job playing each of the characters. By truly bringing their roles to life in the most historic and accurate way, I got to relive two hours of the 70’s. And boy I am happy it is 2014. I guess what I am really trying to say is thank you to all the women (and men) who fought for feminism.

Details

  • Abigail’s Party is playing until May 11 at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, with additional matinees on Sundays at 2pm
  • Ticket prices range from $25 – $29.50, and are available online, or through the box office at 416-504-7529

Photo graph of Claire Burns and Cody Ray Thompson provided by the company.