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Mike Leigh At The BBC - The Collection (Disc 3 of 6) (2009) [DVDRip (Xvid)]
Abigail’s Party (102:10)
Abigail’s Party began as a stage play, performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 1977. Margaret Matheson saw it and commissioned it for Play for Today. It had good viewing figures on its first and second showings, but the reason the play is so much in the English national consciousness is its second repeat in 1979. There were only three channels then, and one of them – ITV – was on strike. There was a highbrow arts programme on BBC2, so sixteen million people tuned in to Abigail’s Party on BBC1.
It’s Leigh’s longest television work, and the only full-length piece shot on video in a studio (multiple-camera style) rather than on 16mm film. Leigh says that he can’t watch the result, which has all manner of technical imperfections due to its method of production. Alison Steadman’s performance is definitive, so much so that future stage Beverlys are very much in her shadow. Abigail’s Party began on stage, and has a continuing life in that medium, with an original-cast platform performance selling out the National Theatre’s huge Olivier auditorium. It may not be Leigh’s best work, but it’s certainly his best known work and is likely to remain that way for many years to come.
Disc Three has the recent BBC Four documentary All About Abigail’s Party (58:28), which in just under an hour does a thorough job on its subject, from its inception on stage through its TV production to its continuing life on stage, including the original-cast platform performance referred to above. (Thelma Whitely was the original Susan, replaced by the Harriet Reynolds for its first stage revival and the TV version. Harriet Reynolds died of cancer in 1982.) Interviews are made with Leigh, the four surviving television cast members and others. The documentary also gives space to Leigh’s acknowledgement of the television version’s technical shortcomings, and also to those who hated the play, notably Kenneth Williams and Dennis Potter. Also on this disc are items from BBC Four's Abigail's Party tribute night: “Welcome and Intros” (4:58) and “Party Nibbles and Goodbye” (3:29).
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