We chat to Sherlock actress Amanda Abbington, who talks about her new role in Abigail's Party coming to the Oxford Playhouse.
Why do you feel Abigail's Party has endured?
I think Mike Leigh is one of our finest creators and directors and it was such an iconic play in the 1970s. Alison Steadman made it such an iconic part and the writing is so strong, the subject matter is so strong and it's a lovely period piece.
What are you most looking forward to about playing Beverly?
It's about getting the essence of Alison, because you can't get away from how she created the character, but also finding my own take on her and trying to make her a little bit different to Alison. But you can't get too far away from her because it's her words and her creation. It's about paying homage to Alison and the character plus it's such an amazing role because Beverly is flawed and funny. I'm looking forward to delving into all that.
What stops her from being a complete monster?
I don't think she's a monster at all. She's just a bit ham-fisted in how she talks to people and how she reacts. She's just not very good in social situations but she thinks she's a genius in social situations and I think that's what is so funny.
Can you relate to her in any way?
I think so, yes. I relate to her sense of humour and I relate to her wanting everybody to have a nice time. I also like her freeness; she loves music and dancing and I get that.
And in what ways is she completely different to you?
I would never speak to people the way she does. She speaks to her husband Laurence really badly and she tells Ange how to wear her lipstick. I would never dream of doing that – I would never dream of telling people what they should be doing. I'm far more likely to just let people get on with it.
Are you a Donna Summer or Demis Roussos fan, like Beverly is in the play? Are they on your playlist?
Donna Summer definitely. I'm not sure about Demis Roussos though. That might be one step too far. He was on my mum's playlist so I remember growing up listening to him.
How are your 70s fashions in the show?
I'm getting a beautiful off-the- shoulder dress made, which I'm very excited about. I do like the 70s era for fashion and I have some 70s stuff that I wear.
Have you rewatched the original TV version with Alison Steadman or have you avoided it?
I used to watch it all the time. When I was at drama school it was one of my favourite things to watch and I've got the DVD. I haven't avoided it – in fact I watched it again recently. I hadn't seen it for years so I wanted to go back to it, not as a reference but just to revisit that period and what it was like. It was really lovely watching it again actually and it really stands the test of time. It's so brilliant and as a stand-alone piece of theatre it's pretty special. Everybody in it is just brilliant.
What do you think makes Mike Leigh such a revered dramatist?
Because he taps into the working class ethic and he taps into human nature and he reveals a lot of stuff about people which I think is really interesting. He's all about character and relationships and that's fascinating to watch. You feel like you're watching a slice of life and I always think that's far more interesting – people's flaws and interactions. It's a interesting idea and he manages to do it beautifully and easily. The heartbreak, the pathos, the humour and the love in people... He's brilliant at drawing that out.
Having done a lot of TV recently, what are you most looking forward to about being on stage?
[Laughs] Nothing. I'm really nervous about it. I'm terrified. I haven't done it for, like, two years so I'm absolutely dreading it. But I have to do it because I really wanted to do a piece of theatre. It hones your acting muscle and my acting muscle needed a bit of exercise so when this gift of a part came along I thought You only live once so you have to be bold and brave and you have to take it on because you're going to be playing Beverly, which is just an amazing role. It's about taking it, embracing it, running with the fear and anxiety and seeing what happens. But I'm absolutely terrified. How will I conquer the nerves? [Laughs] I might just do it completely drunk, going on stage completely hammered like some of the old actors used to in the 1940s.
Do you have any pre or post-show rituals?
It depends on each job. I don't have a specific thing I do beyond warming up and having a bit of time on my own before the show. Then after the show if I've got people in the audience. I'll go and see them, then I'll have a drink with the cast. This cast is amazing. They're so easy and fun and they're a lovely group of people so hopefully we'll hang out together and have a nice time.
Given how nice they are is it hard to be mean to them on stage?
It is, yes. They're so lovely that after each rehearsal I'm like I'm really sorry, I'm not like that really.
What are your house party dos and don'ts?
Good music, a varied selection of drinks and proper food rather than just nibbles. And the host shouldn't get drunk, go upstairs and fall asleep at 10pm, which is what my dad used to do. He'd get so drunk, go upstairs and not come down again. My mum would asking where he was and he'd be upstairs snoring.
The show comes to Oxford Playhouse from Monday April 3 to 8. Tickets for the show can be booked by visiting www.oxfordplayhouse.com. The tour then goes to Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday April 10 to 15. For more details on these dates, visit www.cambridgeartstheatre.com.