Wednesday, 31 October 2007

I've got beautiful lips

One of the all-time great comedy dramas, and one of my faves, Abigail's Party celebrates its thirtieth birthday this week.

Produced by Mike Leigh, this claustrophobic plot of social climbing and unhealthy relationships - in which incidentally the title character of Abigail never actually appears - conceals some brilliant humour and perfectly observed character performances. The monstrous Beverly (played by the wonderful Alison Steadman) has entered the contenders for "most jaw-droppingly awful female character in drama" alongside Bette Davis in The Anniversary and Velma van Tussle in Hairspray.

But the real strength of the play is the interaction between the five very different characters, trapped as they are in Beverley and Laurence's Good Housekeeping magazine-style 70s home for a drinks and nibbles party. Flirting, lower middle-class snobbery, arguments and general unease - a divine mix, with people you don't like tearing themselves and each other to shreds.

A product of the improvisation method of drama, in which the players construct their own story out of nothing more than an idea for a play (Mike Leigh's speciality), in the hands of such consummate actors Abigail's Party has gained camp cult status.

In the words of Amy Raphael in The Observer, "Beverly, the personification of the gauche, aspirational hostess, has become a gay icon and a drag-queen favourite; there are Abigail's Party parties where fans recite lines to one another."

Ah! the memorable lines! Who doesn't know at least some of them off by heart?

  • "Like a little top-up Ange........?"
  • "Just because a picture happens to be erotic, does not make it pornographic."
  • "If you want olives would you put them out please Laurence?"
  • "I want to hear Demis Roussos, Laurence. Ange wants to hear Demis Roussos, Tony wants to hear Demis Roussos, and Sue wants to hear Demis Roussos, so can we have Demis Roussos on please, Laurence!"
  • "He looks a lot bigger up close doesn't he Ange eh? I thought he was small but he's not, no."
  • "Just say, I've got very beautiful lips."

And here's the queen herself:

Read the 30th anniversary of Abigail's Party article in The Observer

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