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Abigail’s Party – photo by Catherine Ashmore

Abigail"s Party

Q&A: Abigail’s Party

Published 28 May 2012

Cheese and pineapple nibbles, gin and the squeamish feeling of an evening falling apart; Mike Leigh’s 70s hit Abigail’s Party has returned to the London stage with a brown-tinged bang. Following success at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Lindsay Posner-directed production has moved its dodgy décor to the Wyndham’s theatre, where it plays throughout the summer.

We caught up with the cast – Jill Halfpenny, Joe Absolom, Susannah Harker, Andy Nyman and Natalie Casey – to find out about the play, the 70s and their own party experiences, which with poetry, ejections and Pol Pot are… interesting.

What do you think makes Abigail’s Party such an enduring classic?

Halfpenny: Its themes are still as relevant today; our relationship worries and fears are still very prevalent in society today.
Absolom: I suppose haircuts and fashions change through the years but the way humans interact doesn’t really, and watching other people’s awkward social gatherings will always be better than experiencing your own!
Harker: Recognition. Observation. Situation. The play is timeless in its themes of relationships and human interaction. But it also perfectly captures the Seventies, which appeals to our collective nostalgia.
Nyman: Firstly, amazing writing and secondly, the themes are timeless – unhappy marriages, over aspirations. As real today as it always was.
Casey: It’s a play about the human condition. I think a lot of people think it’s a play that paints the working classes in a negative light but it actually paints human beings, all human beings, in a dark shade.

How would you describe your character?

Halfpenny: She’s very unhappy and lonely, but ultimately self-obsessed
Absolom: Tony is almost six foot, blue eyes, brown wig, blue polyester suit, doesn’t say much, supports Crystal Palace.
Harker: Poor Sue! Distracted. She couldn’t be further away from Beverly’s drinks party. All her thoughts are over the road at her daughter’s teenage party and she is in a state of anxiety about it. She is on for one of those evenings we all recognise when she really doesn’t want to be there but she can’t get away. Sue is in a state of anxiety when we meet her for the evening and it just gets worse!
Nyman: Laurence is a man trapped in the wrong life, an estate agent who’d rather be an art critic.
Casey: Ange is a woman with Asperger’s who’s married to a thug… in a nutshell!

What is your favourite line from the play?

Halfpenny: “Take another one Sue, save me coming back”
Absolom: “GEEEEEET UPPP!”
Harker: “Oh yes it’s New York isn’t it?” – about the fibre light which is definitely not New York. The audience doesn’t find it funny very often but it’s my own private favourite.
Nyman: “What… vamping?” (Makes sense in context)
Casey: “Beverly…BE QUIET!”

What is the worst party you have ever been to?

Halfpenny: Probably when I was a teenager and I always left a party five hours later than I should have, just in case I missed out (I never did)!
Absolom: Being a self-employed actor in a company of one means my Christmas parties are always a bit rubbish.
Harker: I once tortured all my friends and family by insisting they write a poem and perform it. I thought it was a good idea at the time but it was sort of agony, not least because I had to do it too. Never again!
Nyman: A dinner we once had where I threw someone out!
Casey: I’ve never been to a bad party. Come to think of it, I’ve never been invited to a party.

Which six people would you invite to your ideal party?

Halfpenny: At the minute my two sisters, Mam and Dad and my two close friends as I don’t see any of them nearly enough!
Absolom: Noel Gallagher, Keith Richards, Bruce Parry, Miles Davis, Ray Winstone, Sir David Attenborough.
Harker: Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Picasso, Oscar and Constance Wilde, Katherine Mansfield.
Nyman: My mum and dad and all of my grandparents. I can think of nothing better.
Casey: President Nixon, Tony Blair, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Nikki Minaj. You know, all the greats.

If you could bring anything back from the 70s, what would it be?

Halfpenny: The Farrah Fawcett hair, it suits everyone!
Absolom: Smoking in pubs and Miss World contests.
Harker: The fibre light.
Nyman: My bike – an orange Raleigh Grifter.
Casey: The Apollo Space programme. Humankind needs an epic dream.

What makes you laugh?

Halfpenny: My four year old boy Harvey.
Absolom: Frasier and Facejacker. Buh!
Harker: Recognition. Observation. Situation. And a sense of humour… any kind.
Nyman: Funny things… of course.
Casey: Questionnaires.

Abigail’s Party is taking part in Get Into London Theatre summer 2012, offering reduced price tickets between 21 June and 1 September. Tickets must be booked by 31 May. Book now!

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