Richard Handford will be masterminding an excruciating evening in the company of the hostess from hell when he produces Abigail’s Party for the West Wittering Players.
The play was originally devised from scratch in rehearsals and performed for the first time at Hampstead Theatre in April 1977. A television version followed in November that year.
Alison Steadman won rave reviews as the ghastly Beverly, a character who quickly entered our cultural history.
“Before I suggested doing this play, I did look at the DVD,” says Richard. “But I have not looked at it since. I hope I have brought a fresh eye to the whole thing.
“I didn’t want the DVD to compromise how I thought it should be done.
“I have just always found it a very entertaining play. In many ways, it is a period piece about the social mores and the social etiquette of the 70s. It was originally a theatre piece in the one room, and I have stuck to the three unities.
“The way that Mike Leigh worked was that he would give the cast an idea, he would come up with the basis and they would improvise it into existence, after which it was written down.
“By the time it was done for television, it was scripted.”
Richard is confident he has got precisely the cast to respond to the challenge,
“They are really enjoying it. I have an exceptionally-good cast. I have a rare team, and they are on very, very good form.”
Richard’s team is headed by Catherine Wildsmith as Beverly, a part she has always wanted to play. Dennis Harrison plays Laurence, her long-suffering husband.
Angie Willsher plays Angela, a new arrival on the estate, and Tony Haycocks is her husband, a man of few words.
Sarah Goodall takes the part of Susan, the mother of Abigail who is giving the party.
As Richard says, plenty of people, thinking of the title, have asked him ‘Who is playing Abigail?’ In fact, Abigail is never seen. It is Beverly, the world’s worst hostess, who presides.
Is she a monster?
“I think she is someone that people love to hate,” Richard says. “
You speak to some people, and they say they hate the play, but what they actually mean is they hate the character of Beverly, and in fact in many ways, she is totally dreadful.
“I think everyone will have heard of the play, but it is a play that does polarise people.
“With her lower-middle class pretensions, Beverly puts her foot into absolutely everything.
“She thinks she knows how to handle events, and she thinks she has the right attitude, but she is so wrong.”
Her husband Laurence certainly has a lot to put up with, but he isn’t blameless when it comes to pretension.
“He has aspirations to be upwardly mobile. He is proud of his works of art on the wall and his box sets of Shakespeare and Dickens. I am sure he hasn’t read them. They are just there to grace his bookshelves.”
Performances are Wednesday to Saturday, April 9, 10, 11 and 12.
All performances begin in the Memorial Hall at 7.30pm.
Saturday will be a charity gala performance when the audience is asked to come in 70s costume and stay at the end to partake in some of the food popular at the time of the play. There will also be a raffle.
Tickets on Saturday will be £10; tickets for Wednesday to Friday will be £7.50 and £7.
Tickets for the show will be on sale from Sayas News in West Wittering.