Sunday, 3 March 2013

Abigail's Party - a fabulous set

In October 2009 the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham put on a production of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. In this production I played Laurence, the workaholic husband of  Beverley Moss and  the early rehearsals moved from the theatre's studio space and outside  venues into the main auditorium once the stage was free from the previous production. Once in the main theatre space, the director Robert Stevens and the rest of the cast and technical crew started to see the hard work that Hugh and Carol Philip and their team were putting into the construction of the 1970s style set.

Gradually, over the weeks prior to the production our 'home' as we started to call it, evolved step by step and pieces of period furniture arrived to dress the set. The 'wallpaper' was painted on meticulously by hand, based on an original 1970s pattern and given orange tinted embellishments, by Carol and the stage hands including Janine Forster who went on to complete a course at RADA for Scenic Construction.

The unit at the back of the front room was lent by John and Doreen Hunt and the design of the set (Carol Philip) meant that the actors could go off stage and pretend to be in the Moss's kitchen and were audible to the audience as the text required; including the Sue character being sick.

The main focus of the set (and loved by the audience for its ghastliness) was the orange suite. This was acquired from eBay for a tenner! However, because of fire regulations we had to fire proof the whole thing. It did also smell very slightly of cat pee. This fire proofing was particularly important in this play as a lot of smoking was happening on stage during the play. I believe that the suite was acquired after our run by another amateur London based company also doing Abigail's Party.

Janine Forster also worked on props and sourced a number of 1970s items to furnish and decorate the set including the trimfone, original Coke bottles, a stereo, long playing records with the correct covers, a lava lamp, a period lamp and cigarette lighter etc. A fair few of the 1970s articles were sourced from a Long Eaton based company called Ms Cellaneous.

The set was an absolute delight to work on and it is traditional for everyone involved in the play to help dismantle the set after the last night. It was probably the saddest dismantling at the Lace Market Theatre I've known as we actors felt like it was a proper home.

From the original programme by director Robert Stevens:

' This has been a wonderfully funny play to put on. Rehearsals were hilarious. The cast created a perfect combination of determined hard work with huge amounts of fun, wit and intelligence - it has really been a pleasure to work with them and, genuinely, I will miss it all.

As for my crew, well they have worked tirelessly to get the quality that you will se on stage tonight. The long days and nights have paid off and to them I extend my great appreciation and thanks. Enjoy!

Oh, and just one last word on authenticity; the sofa and armchairs are genuine 1970s. We had cause to undo the hessian backing and found the date the furniture was made - it read 4th October 1975.'

Rob Stevens

A newspaper review of the play can be found on my other blog here.

Production photos by Mark James. Artefact and set photos by Phil Lowe.


Karen said...

We saw this, & thoroughly enjoyed it. The only problem was the set - it was so wonderful that for a few minutes it proved to me a distraction from the acting, as it was a case of seeing items very familiar from when I was younger. Not the wallpaper or that ghastly (but also very perfect for the time) sofa.

Christopher Frost said...

I can't believe it was three years ago Phil. I can believe two, but not three.

I believe that there's going to be a production of the play later this year at the Theatre Royal. I don't know if there going to be any famous faces in it though.

Phil said...

Christopher: There WAS a production at the Theatre Royal about a month ago. Apparently it was very good.