Amanda Abbington is recognisable to many from Mr Selfridge and Sherlock, however her talents reach far beyond the small screen and she is currently wowing audiences in the iconic role of Beverly in Abigail’s Party. The play is touring the UK at the moment and Abbington is receiving rave reviews for her performance. In an exclusive interview with Break A Leg, Amanda talked about just how well she knew the piece before she took on the role and what she hopes the audience will take away from the production.
Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, Amanda. How familiar were you with Abigail’s Party?
It was a part of my growing up, I watched it when I was quite young and it was always my benchmark, I wanted to be an actress because of that play. I fell in love with Alison Steadman as Beverly and then I watched Nuts In May and I became a huge fan of Mike Leigh and have been ever since.
So, you were very familiar with the piece, was Beverly a dream role?
Yes and it has been quite nerve-wracking because it is such an iconic part and you have to try not to do an imitation of Alison Steadman in the part while at the same time keep an essence of that because she created it with Mike. So it’s quite difficult not to do an impersonation but at the same time not to go too far away from the character.
Did you aim to bring a fresh take to the part?
Yes, I hoped to, I’ve made her from Essex because the play is set in Romford and my grandmother was from Billericay, so I had this idea in my head and I had a really good voice coach who helped me with the intonation and inflection of that. I don’t think my voice is like Alison Steadman’s Beverly, I didn’t want it to be an out and out impersonation. People come to see it because they know the play, but at the same time I think it’s good to have a different take on it and a different slant.
What do you think of Mike Leigh’s other work?
He’s up there, one of my favourites, I love ‘Life Is Sweet’, ‘Naked’, ‘Another Year’. I think he does a great job of making middle England quite murky, seedy and sad. If you scratch the surface of any Mike Leigh film, underneath is pain and suffering, juxtaposed with humour which is what life is. He manages to do that very easily without pushing it in your face, though, it’s very easy and natural to watch and sometimes really uncomfortable to watch. ‘Naked’ is my favourite but it’s difficult to watch because it’s deeply unpleasant yet really funny. At some point in a Mike Leigh play or film you will think “ooh this is uncomfortable”.
Would you be keen to work with him through the improvisation process?
I would love to, most actors would, he’s such a prolific director and writer that most actors want to at some point work with Mike Leigh just to experience that. It would be joyful!
In comparison to working on screen which you’ve done quite frequently, how do you find working on stage?
This is my first theatre tour and I’ve only ever done five plays so it’s a leap of faith for people to hire me in theatre but I do love it. It terrifies me, especially in the rehearsal room at the beginning when I think “I don’t know how I’m going to do this”, find the character, learn the lines, adapt it and play with it. But it happens. You tell yourself you can’t do it but actually you really can. Theatre is a good leveller, you have to push yourself and never settle for mediocrity, really push through and scare yourself, it’s an exciting and terrifying prospect but it’s rewarding beyond measure.
What do you hope that the audience are going to take away from this production?
I hope they have a fun night out, our audiences’ reactions every single night have been amazing at the end. People have stood up and cheered, that for me is the perfect review, they’re either very vocal and really laugh or they listen, but at the end they go nuts, clap and cheer and they love it. That for me is a big benchmark for what we are doing. I think it’s a really fun, dark and witty play. It’s a slice of life, still relevant today with unhappy marriages, people unfulfilled and lacking ambition or stuck in a rut and I think that’s what Abigail’s Party is about. It’s about unhappy people in unhappy relationships.
Finally, what would you say to encourage people to come and see the play?
I think it’s a great night out, if you want to revisit the 70’s and see a lot of people having fun, dancing, unravelling and shouting then Abigail’s Party is the one for you.