Despite its title, we know very little of what actually happened at Abigail’s party. In real life, if it had turned into a crime scene, detectives would no doubt have had questions for Laurence and Tony, who both left their own party to check up on what was going on in their neighbour’s house. Tony, in particular would have faced interrogation as to why he stayed on after Laurence had returned home and why when he did go back the front of his shirt was so wet. Abi, a new monologue by Atiha Sen Gupta, doesn’t answer these questions but exposes some uncomfortable possibilities and opens up the lives of Abigail, the daughter she subsequently mothered and that of her granddaughter, in whose words this play is told.
A delightfully enjoyable, skilled performance.
It’s 2018, forty-one years after the infamous party. Abi (Safiyya Ingar) is aged fifteen. Dressed in her school uniform her opening sequence replicates the opening scene from Abigail’s Party. On goes the music, now remotely controlled from her smartphone, and the dancing commences. She’s at home here, in her grandmother’s house, where few of the furnishings have changed. It was her grandmother who raised her through the years of her dysfunctional relationship with the mother she has never understood and largely despises.
She tells of her past and present in a form of casual teenspeak that is accessible to all and which is full of familiar scenarios for all ages. In writing the play Gupta carried out extensive research in many schools, where she also held workshops for students of Abi’s age. The numbers of teenagers she met grew but their concerns remained very much the same. Issues became reinforced as the process went on. Eventually they would form the substance of the play. Aside from the fascination older audiences might have with the former play this one-woman piece is worthy in its own right as a stand-alone monologue. It impinges on numerous issues, but with remarkable subtlety, leaving room for speculation and reflexion. It doesn’t preach and is not didactic but does leave one wondering.
Although in her early twenties Ingar is convincingly the schoolgirl. With clarity of speech she moves confidently around the vast set expounding her thoughts and raising issues, using the space with ease when others might become lost. Her precise timing creates comic moments and sparingly chosen pieces of music break up the piece. The sensitive writing combined with the openness her delivery makes for an easy journey through scenarios that impinge on family relationships, alcohol access and excess, peer pressure, sexting, grooming and the age of consent. Throughout there is an intriguing ambiguity concerning the nature of the relationship she has with the older mysterious boyfriend. With great dexterity and in a non-patronising manner she maintains a light touch on heavy issues, until a frightening possibility takes hold of her at the very end.
There is perhaps an issue as to where the play sits on a continuum from dealing with
issues for young people to being a light-hearted diversion for adults who know Abigail’s Party and the universality its message. The humour could be developed further, with some lines clearly not being as funny as perhaps they were intended to be. Nevertheless, it remains a delightfully enjoyable, skilled performance.