MTC brings distinguished British writer and director, Mike Leigh, into the Melbourne spotlight with his 70’s fab and groovy satire, Abigail’s Party. An intricate compilation of 70’s British mores within the up and coming Middle Class, Leigh exposes the dirt in the cracks as each character reveals what really lies beneath during an evening of revelry and revelation in his harshly humorous work.

NIDA graduate, Pip Edwards,  plays the unrelenting Beverley Moss,  a woman that does not understand the word no.

“With Beverly, though she is effectively the villain of the story.” says Edwards. ” I consider her someone in a state of deep pain, loneliness, and boredom. The juncture of narcissism, neglect and broken dreams. The world told her that getting married and ‘buying things for the house’ would give her status and make her happy, yet in truth it has rendered her utterly disempowered, trapped and alone. Yet Beverly refuses to be a victim. She refuses to sit in her pain- instead focusing on fun, fantasy and just wanting to have some joy in her life, at least for one night!  It’s just that her chosen path is utterly disillusional. Beverly does and says what she feels like. She treats life like a game. There is great fun for her, in that. ”

As a time capsule for, and celebration of, all things 70’s kitsch, Abigail’s Party is the bomb!  In fact, this was Edwards’ first drawcard to the work.

“Like Beverly, I believe that most art, music and culture “is a question of taste”, and see it “boring” to rate “high art” over pop culture because…. well… we are ‘meant to’. I love that she rates things on level of enjoyment.”

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“My initial impulse with the role was that here was a woman who needed to be liked and adored, though throughout the rehearsal process, we have found her to be even more narcissistic than that. She wants love from her husband, but goes about it in a rather self-centred way, not understanding his pressures at all.  And to Beverly, the other characters are more like pawns in her quest to entertain herself and ‘play’. Rather wickedly having fun and not at all aware of the consequences.”

But, acknowledges Edwards, it is early days of rehearsal. “We are still discovering…. It could have completely changed again by the time we are on!”

Since graduating in 2012,  Edwards has found success on both stage and screen in what we know is a fickle industry.  In fact, growing up, she had little concept of acting as a career choice. “While I would jump at any chance to perform (school plays, the odd holiday program, regular lounge-room soft-toy dramas), it wasn’t until actor Colette Mann saw me play Dolly in a high-school production of Cloudstreet that I became aware that a career as an actor was actually ‘a thing’. Colette approached me post show and offered me mentorship. Colette offered me support, guidance, professional technique, and- perhaps most importantly- was a real human who was making a living as an actor.”

Edwards stresses that there is no ‘one way’ to make a living as a performing artist, and so guidance from a trusted mentor can have a profound impact on an early performer’s career.

“Every day I am inspired by a great many actors and creatives- their performances, their craft, their creativity, insight, ambition and courage. Though I am particularly inspired by those great creatives and actors who have pushed boundaries – actor/entrepreneurs who define their career by their terms.  I adore Jane Fonda. Both They Shoot Horses Don’t They and Barbarella are fabulous- such different genres but both brilliantly brave. I am inspired by Jane’s entrepreneurship. Before her aerobics videos, it was unwomanly to sweat- she created the fashion of fitness for women! And I am inspired by the use of her status for the betterment of the world. ”

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Edwards has always been inspired by amazing comedy actor/creator partnerships and collaborations. “Those brilliant shows which seem to emerge organically (but no-doubt take years of unseen hard work). I’m talking about Jennifer Saunders/Joanna Lumley, Tina Fey/Amy Poehler, Gina Riley/Jane Turner/Magda Szubanski to name a few. “And” she quips, “Oprah. Of course.”

Edwards has worked regularly with the director of Abigail’s Party, Stephen Nicolazzo (Artistic Director of Little Ones Theatre)  since their early days of independent theatre in Melbourne, and this production will see them reunited on the mainstage at Southbank Theatre. They met studying Creative Arts at Melbourne University when they were 18 and proceeded to do a number shows together around that time.

“We were brave and experimental and made it up as we went along. It was crazy, fun, often ridiculous, a wonderfully supportive environment to find our voices. I think we bonded immediately over our mutual affinity with camp, and the heart underneath.  There are a number of us from that era of Melbourne Uni theatre who have gone on to various careers in the arts, and it’s wonderful to see. ”

Nicolazzo and Edwards ended up getting into NIDA the same year- directing and acting respectively.  Nicolazzo moved back to Melbourne while Edwards ended up doing telly in Sydney for a few years. “It’s been a while since we’ve worked together, though we remained great friends, and our respect for each others’ work only grew.”

“Stephen is a brilliant director,” says Edwards. “I consider him an artist, a revolutionary, a unique voice. He demands a lot from his actors, and you work to exhaustion.  However  he is always caring and respectful  of the human heart and soul.”

“Stephen is one of those people you want to do your best for. You want to make magic for him. ”

“Stephen’s process in the room is very physical. He doesn’t do much ‘around the table’ work,  we were on the floor the second day of rehearsal. He is brilliant at physical detailing, creating choreography with actors.”

In fact, Nicolazzo has imbibed his own creative magic into Leigh’s classic script.

Edwards explains:” The play text itself is largely a discussion of class, status, and what Mike Leigh called, a critique of ‘the Done Thing’. To that end, there are some references in the script which were perhaps more pertinent in 1977 England than they are to Melbourne audiences today.”

“Yet Stephen’s focus is absolutely contemporary. While our production still celebrates Demis Roussos, cheesy-pineapple canapés and Gin & Tonic, Stephen is most concerned with delving into universal human truths.”

“By taking the play out of naturalism we are able to shine a light on the cruelty, loneliness and disconnection inherent in these people. ”

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“Abigail’s Party is about laughing at our ridiculous layers of social facade,” says Edwards. “It’s a comedy, but a bold and vicious one. Think of the Greek origins of comedy, when it was a chance for humans to purge our grotesque innards and laugh. A fabulous catharsis.”

March 17 – April 21