‘Abigail’s Party’ revisits ’70s Australiana through a queer, feminist, hilarious lens

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‘Abigail’s Party’ revisits ’70s Australiana through a queer, feminist, hilarious lens


In the wake of the small-screen success of Puberty Blues and the impending big-screen arrival of Swinging Safari, Australia has no shortage of laughable material to examine when it looks back on itself in the ’70s.

With no exception, Mike Leigh’s hilarious 1977 play, Abigail’s Party, is a satirical but sharp portrait of middle-class suburbia in the ’70s. Director Stephen Nicolazzo’s 2018 interpretation, brought about by the Melbourne Theatre Company, brings nothing but poignancy and relevance to the stage while dealing with a bygone era.

The play takes place over a single night, when desperate-to-impress Beverly and her real estate agent husband Lawrence set their living room up for a night of socially-awkward cocktails, Demis Roussos, and cheese and pineapple sticks. Their guests are various neighbours; divorcee Susan who’s steering clear of her daughter Abigail’s party down the road, former football star and now dissatisfied Tony, and his eager-to-please wife Angela. As actress Zoe Boesen – who plays Angela – confirms, the night is derailed, but not always in the way the audience expects.

“The production is great, it’s hilarious – but also very heartfelt. All of Mike Leigh’s plays are comedy, but black comedy. It’s the kind of play where you’re kind of laughing at it, but you have occasional moments where you catch yourself and think, ‘Oh god, should I really be laughing at this?’

“The characters [Leigh] creates are extreme in some ways, but they’re always very heartfelt,” she says. “They’re recognisable portraits of humans.”

Despite the satirical nature of the play, aspects that would have been jokes in past decades are perhaps not as funny nowadays. Domestic abuse, the social status quo, and societal expectations of gender and sexuality are all addressed, but from a perspective more adherent to someone living in 2018.

“We’re not doing a naturalistic, museum version of a night in the ’70s. It’s shifted slightly so that the gaze the audience has been invited to look through is queer, and it’s feminist, and it’s quite a heightened style – it’s not realism. Domestic violence, the performance of gender, toxic masculinity, and the idea of ‘the done thing’ are all alluded to and addressed. We really go there, and we’re not shying away.”

That being said, the hilarity is still very much there. Boasting the tried-and-tested combo of Nicolazzo and Boesen, and other staple names such as Pip Edwards and Benjamin Rigby, the creative team has had an excess of time to craft each joke and scene.

“I sound so serious, but we’re all idiots. That’s probably why the comedy aspects mesh so well with the more serious side of the play – we believe comedy is a serious business, but we’re just having fun with it and we hope that shines through in the performance.”