Language of ‘Abigail’s Party’ Emily Huntley Essay
Language of ‘Abigail’s Party’ Emily Huntley
Mike Leigh used to be one of a kind, famous for creating movies through an unusual process that involves extensive rehearsals and improvisations with his actors; a process that begins weeks before anyone picks up a camera. In each of his plays, he has depicted the often-uneventful lives of ordinary people. The results are always far from conventional. And it is through his success that many directors are now using his techniques to capture the texture of everyday life.
Leigh achieves this commonness in the majority through his language, although the whole play is based on naturalism, he uses this technique to capture the essence of each characters persona. I think this technique is particularly successful, as the audience finds it easy to relate themselves to the evening unravelling before them, and manage to put themselves in the situations of the characters.
My first impression of Lawrence was that he was an well-educated, cultured man, who was simply a good social mixer but this is the aim of Leigh. He wanted the audience to believe the opposite of Lawrence and then have their thoughts ‘dashed’. In a way I believe that this makes the audience feel vulnerable as if they’ve been deceived and they then seek comfort in one of the other characters which seem simple and honest and therefore they find themselves ‘delving’ into the play further.
Lawrence speaks in a polite and precise manner ‘Ah, yes-now, when would you be best for you? …No, no, I’ll fall in with you, Mrs Cushing.’ (Page 2) this enforces the idea of him being a well brought up man and hopefully in his eyes achieving the idea that his guests consider him of a high social class. Leigh also used the language of the character Lawrence to make him persuasive and condescending, ‘I don’t only like Minis-I like lots of other cars. But I find the Mini economical, efficient and reliable.’ (Page 8) this is a good example of the ‘rule of 3’ a strong persuasive technique, this is how he enforces his ideas on others and appears so domineering and always seems to be right as no one has the courage to object. Generally Lawrence’s speech is direct and focused, he speaks when spoken to and rarely initiates a conversation, unless asking probing questions to prove his wealth and class over the other guests ‘You have a car, do you? (Page 8).
Although Lawrence’s vocabulary is relatively simple, he still uses this to his advantage by trying to better himself and prove his supposedly higher social status ‘Macbeth. Part of our heritage’. This also links to Lawrence’s frequent ‘name dropping’ this is in an attempt to try and appear culturally educated, with references to ‘Van Gogh’ ‘Shakespeare’ ‘Lowry’ etc.
Lawrence also frequently uses questions in his dialect, this is to distract guests from a previous topic that may be a bit ‘uncomfortable’ for him, and so that he feels as though he is remaining control, he can choose what subject to initiate a conversation with ‘You’ve got footballer’s legs, though, haven’t you? … Talking of Paris, Sue, do you like art?’
Another technique Leigh used in Lawrence’s character, are put-downs. This is achieved by the use of rhetorical questions. ‘What would you know about taste? (Page 48). And also by repetition of the persons name who he’s talking to. ‘I’ve seen to the drinks, thank you, Beverly!’ (Page 42), in this is example it is used as a ‘put down’ to remind Beverly to look around and compose herself.
Throughout the play, Leigh rarely uses poetic language or imagery, with few metaphors and no symbolism. Lawrence is a prime example of this as he is a simple dialect character.
When I initially read the play, I thought the whole plot pivoted around Beverly and how bad a hostess she was. I later found this not to be true. After seeing the play I realised that Beverly is actually a very good host, this is proved when she leaves the room, and the conversation withers. She also dominates the play, with her monologues, and comical ‘mickey’ taking of Lawrence.
In Abigail’s Party Beverly is the only character to frequently swear with no apparent acknowledgement for her guests. ‘Oh sod off Lawrence’ (Page 49). This although may be offensive to some, shows the extreme contrast between the ‘nouveaux riches’ and the true middle class, such as Sue.
Throughout the play Beverly uses a patronising tone, but I feel this isn’t a condescending technique, but rather being too honest ‘Please don’t be offended when I say this, but, you’re wearing a very pretty dress, If I may say so; now, you see that pink ribbon down the front? If you’d chosen, Ang, a colour slightly nearer that pink, I think it would have blended more with your skin tones;’ (Page 10). In this example, I feel that she is trying to make Ang feel better in herself. Although this does prove how materialistic Bev is as she thinks that making yourself look better solves all problems.
Beverly babbles incessantly, is garrulous, and uses a lot of personal anecdotes in her dialect. ‘Now my bloke had told me to turn left, right? Now we come to the first give way, and the bloke in front slammed his brakes on. Now, I’m going behind him and I suppose I’m going a little bit too quick with me nerves; so I slam on my brakes and I went slap into the back of him.’ (Page 9). This is a clear example of Beverly’s long and complex sentences, although she also uses short simple sentences ‘Lawrence you’re going to get heartburn’ (Page 2). Beverly is also very colloquial in the way that she speaks, and this makes it easier for the audience to familiarise themselves with her.
Similarly to Lawrence, Beverly also ‘name drops’ to appear culturally educated ‘Beaujolais’ (Page 11) although from the quote ‘Oh it’s Beaujolais. Fantastic! Won’t be a sec, I’ll just pop it in the fridge.'(Page 11) You can tell that Bev clearly has no idea about wine etc. like we originally thought.
Generally speaking Beverly is the main character to initiate conversation, she keeps everyone involved and the conversation flowing. She also reiterates a lot to confirm and seek approval, assurance and affirmation.
Beverly has a few peculiarities of speech, including the adjectives ‘Great’ and ‘Fantastic’. These are character phrases enable the audience to link these certain words to her, and expect them, I feel this makes the audience feel more at ease with Bev, or simply more irritated by her.
Similarly to Lawrence, Beverly also never uses imagery, symbolism, metaphors or poetic language. But unsurprisingly for her character there are frequent sexual innuendoes ‘He’s got a firm handshake, hasn’t he?’ (Page 5) ‘Tone, you can’t do much with a bed-head, can you?’ (Page 7).
As a person, Ang is a simple and satisfied working class newly wed.
Her sentences can be long, but this is purely due to her rambling and not knowing when to stop. ‘Oh, what a lovely table. This is just what we need. It’s the next thing we’re going to get. ‘Cos at the moment we’re eating off our knees. It’s unusual, isn’t it – with the wooden top and modern legs.’ (Page 22) Her conversation seems to be pretty pointless as she doesn’t seem to have anything of any value to add to the discussion. But similarly to Bev she also includes simple sentences to make her dialect feel more naturalistic.
When comparing the characters I think it is possible to state that Ang is the most colloquial of all of them, as she is most informal, and although her grammar is a little ‘shakey’ it seems to be easier for the audience to accept her on face value as she is too honest and genuine to be hiding anything.
Ang uses questions to seek assurance, and also to encourage people to engage with her, as it provokes a response. ‘Isn’t she?’
Ang uses personal anecdotes to inform the audience of her character, although the comic element that Leigh included was how she seems completely oblivious to her boundaries, and therefore makes herself look foolish. ‘Tony had a bad experience in an Indian restaurant – this was before I knew him…He had a nasty dose of gastro-enteritis after he’d had a curry, and you see that put him off. (Page 25). This medical reference shows hoe educated she is and reflects her job as a nurse.
I feel it is the fact that Ang is too blunt and open to use any form of innuendoes, or symbolism, that makes it so easy for the audience to accept her.
Tony is a very reserved character; he rarely uses full sentences, but rather one-word replies, this makes him appear constrained and unnatural which is why I believe it is not so surprising when he raises his voice at Ang as the audience can see the tension building inside him. He never initiates conversation, as that would mean replies to more questions. He often uses slang, or colloquial language ‘top’ ‘ta’. Leigh also included various imperative or instructive verbs ‘leave it’ ‘stand up’ ‘turn that fucking record off’ (Page 51), but these are only ever commanded at Ang, and explains why the audience and guests never agree with Ang when she seems to find him domineering. Tony’s humour seems to be very ‘dry’ in that he finds his own things funny, rather than sharing a universal joke. Tony is the only character to use silence as a defence and attack mechanism. As we’ve seen with Bev and Lawrence they’d rather shout at each other to resolve problems. Tony uses silence to create a tension and most often with Ang and therefore making her look stupid, in front of their company, clearly showing an imbalance in their relationship.
It is clear from the beginning of the play that Sue is of the highest social class in the group. Originally I though Sue was a well brought up and highly well mannered person, but when studying the play I realised the opposite. I felt that Sue is very rude and off-putting to the people around her as she has a lack of curiosity, she doesn’t seem to show any interest in them and clearly doesn’t want them to show any in her. She only speaks when spoken to, and never repays the question. When she does answer questions it’s always unexpansive, short; clipt one-word answers ‘Yes’. It is clear from her dialect that she is uncomfortable and intimidated by the other characters. Her language is very unnatural and similar to that of a guide book.
Her vocabulary is old fashioned, formal, and grammar school style. ‘Daren’t’ ‘Aren’t’. Otherwise it’s quite simple and easily understood so it doesn’t require any explanations. She never uses colloquial or slang vocabulary.
She rarely uses questions in her dialogue as this would initiate conversation. She keeps herself to herself and doesn’t want to probe or get involved into either of the troublesome marriages in front of her.
Her character phrases seem to be reliant on her politeness ‘Yes please’ ‘No thank you’. It is possible to say that she is trapped by her own politeness, She doesn’t have the nerve to leave the party, which she clearly doesn’t want to be at.
Throughout the play she remains completely unassertive right until the end when her guard drops, and she tells Bev to ‘Shut up’ (Page 53).
Language is a key tool that all playwrights use to distinguish the differences and similarities between each of the characters. The character phrases and accents help the audience to realise the different backgrounds and diversity of the characters. Contributing to the visual aspects, lines give a sense of place and person and how the characters interact with one another.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 November 2017
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