Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

10/09/2013 - 21/09/2013

Production Details


British reviewers have called it the most painful hundred minutes in British comedy-drama, and this September, Abigail’s Party is being unleashed on Auckland theatre-goers. 

In 1977 Romford, Essex: Aspirational hostess-with-the-mostest Beverly Moss is having a ‘do’. There’s cheese, there’s pineapple, there’s pass-agg on a plate, and the gin-soaked cracks are starting to show. Ice and lemon, anyone? 

Mike Leigh’s critically acclaimed Abigail’s Party is a darkly funny and squirm-worthy peek at 70s Britain through the window of suburban malaise. Sashay into the living room of upwardly mobile wannabes Beverly and Laurence as they entertain new neighbours from across the road Angela and Tony, and divorcee Susan from No.9.

Mike Leigh has been nominated for seven Oscars for his films Happy Go Lucky and Secrets and Lies, which also won the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 1996.

Sam Snedden directs: Simon Vincent (Metamorphosis, Salon, Heat), Andi Crown (Go Girls, August Osage County), Sophie Roberts (The Weight of Elephants, The Laramie Project, Wolf’s Lair), Nic Sampson (Black Confetti, The End of the Golden Weather) and Jacque Drew (Shortland Street, Cloud 9).

Snedden is known well for his acting roles with Silo Theatre Company (The Pride, The Only Child, Private Lives); Abigail’s Party will be his directorial debut.

Guests are invited to dress up in 70s knitwear on Thursday 12th September to get a two-for-one ticket entry, and stay late on Thursday 19th for a special bonus feature of a live director’s commentary over top of selected scenes from the play.

Between the cringes, audiences will be charmed by this honest portrayal of a surburban soiree, where none can escape the perils of small talk. The only way through it is with a stiff drink in hand!

Abigail’s Party plays 
The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
10 – 21 September 2013, 8pm
Tickets $22 – $27 (no booking fee)
Book now at iticket.co.nz or phone The Basement box office on 09 309 7433

Majestically awful and very funny

Review by Simon Wilson 17th Sep 2013

Ghastliness is rarely quite as entertaining as this.  

When the desperately social Beverly invites her neighbours over for drinks, nobody is expecting a good time, but they’re all resigned to making the most of it. Social awkwardness plus alcohol: that’s life, after all. So the gin and Bacardi flow, and flow, the remarks fly, the anguish heaves itself around the room, and the unfettered needs of the characters, as they do, come tumbling out. It’s very funny. 

First-time director Sam Snedden has assembled a strong comic cast. To be sure, they’re not really stretched – Basement and Silo regulars will have seen Sophie Roberts, Nic Sampson and Simon Vincent do this stuff before – but their talents are put to hilariously good use for all that. Jacque Drew plays counterpoint with a more seriously conceived character, while the whole thing is driven by the faux-majestic, ignorantly snobbish, endlessly awful, apricot chiffon-clad Andi Crown as Beverly. It’s a performance you can’t hide from and, possibly with more than a hint of masochism, you really don’t want to. She’s splendid. [More


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Underlying tensions and shifting alliances

Review by Janet McAllister 14th Sep 2013

This early comedy by Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake) unfolds as if David Brent from The Office had turned into a female beauty therapist and decided to have the neighbours around for drinks. While this production doesn’t turn up the awkward ante to full over two and a half hours (including intermission), there is a little trainwreck frisson near the end. Particularly, perhaps, for that generation of audience who will see echoes of their own 1970s – marrying in haste and repenting at leisure – played out across the stage.

There is a touch of Harold Pinter’s exploration of neurotic suburban status-anxiety here, but in place of Pinter’s complexity, extremity and surreality, Leigh sticks with naturalism and punts broad swipes. The criticism of covetous materialism is not subtle. A guest admires a table. “Expensive, actually!” coos hostess Beverly (Andi Crown). [More]


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A masterpiece of subtle realism

Review by Stephen Lunt 12th Sep 2013

At a glance, “The most painful hundred minutes in British comedy…” seems a strange quote to use to advertise a show.  The reason for its choice becomes clear.  The stellar performance of each cast member creates such a painful atmosphere, laughter is the only thing to cut it.  Through this laughter, we become the sixth character, lifting the piece from a social documentary to a meticulously well-constructed masterpiece of painful comedy. 

During the 1970s Britain’s the class system, whose lines had been so well divided in the past, began to merge.  With the death of mining and ship building, banking was becoming the new industry, requiring the working class to up-skill and forcing the classes together.  This is the feeling with which Mike Leigh writes Abigail’s Party and boy does he capture it.  With each character battling to conform or break away from their class constraints, this leads to the perfect cocktail of friction and G&Ts. 

The Moss’s living room – designed by Andi Crown and Elise Sterback – has stepped straight out of the 70s, with every detail authentic and well thought out.  As is the choice of music, awkwardly fondling each moment.

Sam Sneddon has chosen a difficult piece for his directing debut.  This is essentially a living room drama that could easily become stagnant to the untrained eye.  Not so; it has been brought to life by very skilful direction.  The piece demands attention and does not disappoint when it gets it.  It has pace, subtlety and tremendous energy. 

Every moment has been thought about, every glance has a purpose and every silence works as hard as the conversation before.  The action overlaps where it naturally can and pulls focus where it needs to.  This is clever stuff and Sneddon’s light-handed approach has achieved a masterpiece of subtle realism.  I am desperate to see more from him in the future.

To differentiate between cast members is hard with this piece, as it requires such ensemble work to create its atmosphere. 

Andi Crown’s Beverly is the unflinching host, taking pleasure in her control over each situation and pacing it to comedy perfection.  The coil winding against her friction, Simon Vincent plays her Estate Agent husband, clawing his way up the social ladder and pushing it away behind him with heightened energy and stiff vigour.  

As Angela Cooper, Sophie Roberts provides tremendous comedy skill in her exchanges with her husband, Tony, played by Nic Sampson.  The new couple to the road, Sampson is the perfect deadpan to Roberts’ set ups. 

Jacque Drew plays Susan, the desperate divorcee, quietly energising every exchange and every silence with an intensity that’s hard not to watch. Each cast member immerses themselves so thoroughly, the two hour performance flies by and I don’t want it to end. 

Leigh would be proud of this production.  He has written a play with well-drawn characters, whose opposing motivations create an explosive piece.  Through Snedden’s excellent direction and intuitive cast, every pointed line and painful reaction is played out.  “The most painful hundred minutes in British comedy…”?  If all comedy was this painful, I’d be a happy man!


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Keep Calm and Party On

Review by James Wenley 11th Sep 2013

The promotional blurb has boldly led with the Channel 4 Quote that Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh is the “most painful hundred minutes of British comedy”. You can understand why. The guests of the party are hardly the type of people you’d otherwise willingly want to spend that amount of time with. While 15-year-old Abigail’s party blares next door, the middle-class guests at Beverly’s party (her husband Laurence, new-to-the-area couple Ange and Tony, and Abigail’s mother Susan) hold a distinctive air of antagonism and mutual dislike as they chip away at one another, flirt with the wrong partner, and all the while try to maintain that peculiarly British front – keep calm and carry on.

When interval hit I was struck with the thought: how much more of this could I take? It’s a squirmingly hilarious satire of 1970s suburban Britain, but it a decidedly masochistic audience experience – a social train-wreck that you cannot take your eyes off. The Channel 4 reviewer was referencing the 1979 BBC Play for Today film version of the story, here Mike Leigh’s 1977 play (famous for being developed out of improvisations with the cast), under the direction of Sam Sneddon, extracting as much awkwardness as he can, the play is a comically gruelling 2 hours+. [More]


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