Set in 2018, Abi works as a standalone piece of theatre but is best enjoyed in its intended purpose, as a ‘response’ to Abigail’s Party. Within living memory, much has changed since ‘Abigail’ hosted a party at the age of 15 for an unspecified reason (that is, not her birthday or any other milestone) in 1977 – and as Abi (Safiyya Ingar) prepares for her own ‘pre-party, party and post-party’, there are some intriguing observations about life in the digital era. Things are so much more instant and on-demand, apparently.
Perhaps. In Abigail’s Party it is revealed that Tony and Angela were married within months of meeting each other. But what Abi refers to is the use of dating apps to ‘swipe left’ or ‘swipe right’ (an indication of attractiveness, apparently), and in swiping negatively, whichever way that is (I really don’t know!) a potential life partner is lost. As Abi relates her conversations with Abigail, her maternal grandmother, it’s also clear quite how much hasn’t changed – the universal themes of coming of age, love and relationships are as potent as ever.
There’s an overuse of the phrase ‘AF’, a substitute for ‘as f-k’, which the Urban Dictionary defines as “an expression that can be added to almost any adjective to give emphasis” but, generally speaking, means ‘extremely’. At least the audience is not subjected to the two most common phrases I’ve heard from ‘Generation Y’, or ‘millennials’ – ‘like’ and ‘you know’. Abi is probably more ‘Generation Z’ than ‘Generation Y’, but either way, the monologue is easy to follow. Easy ‘as f-k’, even.
With only Abi’s perspective to see her world through, it’s difficult to say for certain whether her mother is as dull and po-faced as many a teenager would portray the mouths that feed them to be, or, through the lens of hopeful and youthful love, whether boyfriend Luke really is all the wonderful things Abi says he is. She does, to be fair, speak so consistently well of him that it’s difficult to believe otherwise.
History might be about to repeat itself, but it’s not necessarily because Abi doesn’t listen. The pineapple sticks of Abigail’s Party are now Pringles and what were Demis Roussos tracks are now the likes of more contemporary singers. If this play lacks subtlety, that really doesn’t matter – the exuberance and forthrightness of the character are to be enjoyed, while some observations about what went on a generation ago, as Abi looks through Abigail’s photographs from 1977, shine a different perspective on the events of Abigail’s Party.
Abi describes herself as ‘Asian’, which gives rise to an anecdote or two about people asking where she is from. Sex education in schools, or rather the lack of it, gets a drumming from Abi, who almost complains that her grandmother did a better job of explaining the birds and the bees than the National Curriculum. It’s quite a briskly-paced production, which goes well with the youthful dynamism of the partying Abi. It does ebb and flow, granted, but overall, this is a fresh and energetic production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
After one of her regular visits to see grandmother Abigail in hospital, 15-year-old Abisheera (‘Abi’ for short) decides to throw her one last party, convinced it will get her beloved Nan back on her feet.
Struggling to face the imminent reality of life without the only family member she is close to, Abi throws her all into planning Abigail’s final party. But as Abi tries to clear her head and her grandmother’s flat, family secrets begin to surface. Will Abigail’s past threaten Abi’s already fragile present?
This fresh new piece of writing, commissioned by Derby Theatre and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch as part of the RETOLD series, is by one of Britain’s most exciting new writers, Atiha Sen Gupta (Skins, Holby City).
A contemporary response to Abigail’s Party by Atiha Sen Gupta
From an original idea by Sarah Brigham
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
Running Time: 60 minutes
Age: 14+ This performance contains some strong language.