Abigail’s Party set to open as Brighton area’s first live post-lockdown theatre

Abigail’s Party, from Brighton’s Sarah Mann Company, will be the area’s first live theatre post-lockdown. Sarah admits she’s 50-50 delighted and nervous: “But it is great to be back. Really, really good.”

Sarah Mann
Sarah Mann

The show will be at Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) from August 12-22: “And BOAT are being really responsible with all the precautions and all the distancing. If you come in a bubble of four people, then obviously you will be able to sit together, but there will be one metre between you and the next person in the audience, and if audience members want to wear visors or masks, then great, they should.”

The actors on the stage will certainly be in visors – and they have been rehearsing in them: “We were going to be doing this show and then when everything was locked down, we decided to keep it rumbling along in pre-production, keeping our options open and we looked into getting visors. We got them from Spain. Some of them steam up if they are not good enough. I had to get visors that wouldn’t steam up so that you could still see the actors’ faces.”

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If the actors are close on stage, then it will be visors down; if they are sufficiently apart, they might well push their visors up. The company are working on it.

But Sarah is convinced that the right approach will be to acknowledge the protective precautions in the script rather than ignoring them: “Mike Leigh (creator of Abigail’s Party) was the great improvisor after all! I do think we are going to have to incorporate the visors into the show. But they are on hinges, so the actors will be able to lift their visors up when they can. But also, I do think that after five minutes the audience will just stop noticing them anyway.”

With the delayed start to the season, Sarah feels she hasn’t lost rehearsal time so much as pre-production time: “We are on a pretty tight schedule now, but we are not going to be fighting 20 other Brighton productions all going on at the same time. Hopefully that will go in our favour. But it is really exciting to be the first theatre that is home-grown and performing during COVID-19, and I am really proud of that.”

As for audience response: “I think what most people are doing is looking into stuff and thinking ‘Would I feel safe to go to that?’ People are hankering after live culture. It is all very well saying we are allowed to go to the pub, but what is that? England is so well known for its theatre. Shakespeare is our biggest export, And I just think people are going to be so hungry for the live experience. It’s a chance to come together with friends and to be together with social distancing, and what could be safer than open-air theatre. I certainly wouldn’t feel happy sitting in a black-box theatre right now, but I would feel very safe with this.”

As for the show, it certainly touches on themes that will touch a chord right now: Tony’s coercive control of Angela, for instance: “He is a bully. He is a man of few words, but you can feel that their relationship is possibly abusive, and we are looking into that kind of thing.

“The other thing we are looking at is the racism. The 70s were renowned for racism and sexism, and there is casual racism in some of the characters. We want to highlight that. We are the first company ever to cast a black woman as Sue. The racism will happen right in front of her. It will be interesting to see her reaction.”


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