Abigail’s Party

Mike Leigh, Abigail’s Party
(London: Penguin, 2017)
First performed: 1977

LAURENCE opens the desk, gets his case, opens his notebook, goes to the telephone. BEVERLY returns and puts the plates on the coffee table
LAURENCE Just got to make a couple of phone calls
BEVERLY D’you want me to make you a little sandwich?
LAURENCE No, I must get these out of the way first (He stops the record)
BEVERLY Laurence, you want to have your bath and get changed: they’re going to be here soon.
         (on the telephone) Oh, is Mr O’Halligan there, please? … O’Halligan….
         Yes. Well, he’s big. He’s bald, with red hair… Thank you.
BEVERLY Laurence, you’re going to get heartburn.
LAURENCE (on the telephone) Mr O’Halligan?… Mr Moss here, Wibley Webb. Hullo. D’you realize I’ve been trying to contact you all afternoon?… I know you’ve been out! Now, where’s that key to Fifteen Clittingham Avenue?

The telephone is an important part of the plot in Abigail’s Party. It is the device that Laurence Moss uses to arrange to pick up the keys for Fifteen Clittingham Avenue necessitating him going out again just as he has got back home (causing his wife Beverly to exclaim ‘Laurence, you’re going to get heartburn.’) And it is, at the end of the play, used to call an ambulance for Laurence when he has a heart attack.

But this particular telephone does more than just communicate to the outside world; its particular design also communicates a key part of the play’s message. As the stage and televised versions show, the Moss’s house is full of the latest devices, designs and luxuries: from Beverly’s rotisserie (which she hasn’t used yet), to the fitted carpets and, finally, the telephone. The telephone is a Trimphone (Tone Ringer Illuminated Model) which was introduced onto the market in the late 1960s. At the time, this award-winning design was ground-breaking—changing the way that telephones looked and sounded. It had an electronic ringer (which warbled rather than the traditional bell sound), the dial glowed in the dark (thanks to radioactive tritium), and the receiver was placed North-South rather than the more traditional East- West design. At a time when owning a telephone was still something of a luxury, the Trimphone was the most luxurious design of all. But while at first it was the preserve of the fashionable and rich, by the time of Abigail’s Party, the Trimphone had been adopted by the aspirational new middle classes—like Laurence and Beverly Moss—and no longer carried the same social prestige.

by Lucy Jane Santos