The one hundred and fourty-seventh TV show: #254 Abigail's Party

Some of the best comedies are the ones that are rooted in reality, that take people you know in real life, have them do their thing and have it all fall in place in a real way. Abigail's Party is about a party in the seventies that don't feel entirely different from what I would expect my parents to have (although, of course, there are no kids here), but with most dysfunctional relationships. Beverly, played by the brilliant Alison Steadman, has invited a new couple in the neighbourhood to a party at her place, together with Sue, the mother of the titular Abigail, so she can be out of the way during Abigail's party. It's an awkward affair, with the subtly bossy Beverly ordering everyone around, her husband Lawrence trying to show how elevated he is in a way that seems snobby, while the mismatched couple of Angela and Tony seem to suffer in front of us.

It makes for a comedy of awkwardness, one where nobody quite gets along but everyone stays polite enough not to cause a scene. There's a constant underlying tension that comes out further as everyone drinks more, with a dark and explosive end that both resolves and removes some of the tension, but seems to leave things worse. As a play, it's an amazing tour de force with characters that interact believably with each other creating the small stakes that the party brings, but it's also intense enough that it's difficult to watch at times. It's a known masterpiece, and it shows clearly here why that's the case.