Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Director's Notes To His Actors - Abigail's Party

You work on the perfume counter at a department store. Your marriage is a mess. You are a very sensual woman. You need sex. Your husband doesn't give you what you need. He is a little jumped up creep who is more interested in his pathetic job than in you. You've invited the couple from over the road to this party. You fancy the husband like mad. He's a bit rough and ready, just your type. His wife's as naive as they come. You'll be able to flirt with him to your heart's content. Sod your pathetic excuse of a husband. You're going to have some fun.

You're a workaholic estate agent. You think you're cultured but you're not really. You're also a racist. According to you, the area is becoming too "cosmopolitan". You despise your wife who is sex-mad and has no interest in the finer things of life. She is a philistine and a slapper. She disgusts you. You will die in this play of a heart attack brought on by your wife, not by your job which you love.

You are a naive, stupid nurse who is bullied by her husband. You are so stupid a lot of his vicious comments to you go straight over your head. You are a good woman, a public servant but you're as thick as pig shit. You can't even recognise the sexual electricity between your husband and your neighbour. You think everything in the garden will come up rosy. Stupid.

Life has been one long disappointment to you. You weren't good enough to make it in professional football. You're working as a computer operator, for Christ's sake. Your wife is a mousy, stupid little sexless thing who wouldn't say boo to a goose. You're a passionate man who likes a bit of rough sex. The only way you get rough in your marriage is by dominating the little mouse. Your neighbour fancies you something rotten. She's up for it and you're not going to argue if it's there on a plate for you.

You are the audience on stage. You're a nice "old middle class" woman (a divorcee whose ex-husband is an architect) trapped in an atmosphere of vulgarity and violent frustration. You're only here because you have nowhere else to go as your teenage punk daughter is holding a party at your house ("Abigail's Party"). You know about the arts. You are not racist. You don't think the neighbourhood has gone downhill. You are accepting of everybody, even at this party. But this atmosphere, and especially that horrid woman Beverly will test your patience to its limit. You are a genuinely nice person, Susan. Just like the audience. You are one of us.


  1. Oh, now I have such a hankering to watch this again. Haven't seen it in years. Why don't they show stuff like this on UK Gold instead of crappy old episodes of the Bill?

  2. It was on BBC4 to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Our local church theatre group are performing it soon, too. I quite fancy going to that for a laugh.

  3. You are Mike Leigh and I claim my £5.

    But what did you say to Keith and Candice Marie?

  4. Have you ever considered directing Geoff? I've read actual director's notes and this are just like them!

  5. Kaz - I said, "you're not just nuts in May, you're nuts all year round."

    Billy - Aren't directors supposed to have strops? That counts me out.

  6. That's brilliant summing up Geoff. If you could do it before seeing the play you are on your way to becoming Willy Russell ( a tailoring expression). We saw a local production a couple of years ago and it was brilliant, but it's a bit like doing impressions of somebody is so much easier after you've watched someone else do the impression.

  7. Apparently there's a party game (a la Withnail & I) where you have a new drink every time the actors do. I think that would be a good idea for the church theatre production.

    I'm looking forward to getting Willy Russell's album for Christmas.

  8. In the late 70s I was a drama student and the performances in this play seemed very important, as if something crucial was happening.
    I don't think I fully realised at the time but it was pure technique that was so mesmerising. None of this helped me explain to myself why, over the years, Leigh's work made me speechless with rage.
    I'm still interested in the technique. I was thinking recently how the least subtle of his actors suffer outside his work (Blethyn, for example).
    Woops, came over all serious.

  9. There was an interesting documentary accompanying the play which had interviews with the surviving actors. They really got into the parts - the bloke who had the heart attack really suffered. And the rough sexy one really was a failed footballer. Then again the plays are really creations of the actors anyway - Leigh gives them a push and off they go.

    How many times has Alison Steadman played this Alison Steadman character since? She even played her in recent sitcom Gavin & Stacey. The script probably called for an "Alison Steadman" character. Yes, she was the most annoying character in the show.

    I can only take so much Leigh. The early ones are the best.

  10. Aargh, hate Mike Leigh. He is unbelievably annoying. And there's a reason actors aren't usually allowed to write their own scripts. (see Brenda Blethyn, as already mentioned by Arabella, in Secrets & Lies... pure bathos.)

    Good notes though.

  11. I prefer a director who dictates and a script that is written by a writer.

    Unless it's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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