Mike Leigh, who is the playwright of Abigail's party, was born in 1943. He was brought up in a Jewish immigrant family in the over populated, working class area of Salford, Lancashire. He trained at RADA as an actor and then went on to East 15 Acting School to start his directing skills. It was here that Leigh met Alison Steadman, whom he married in 1973 and had two sons with. At school, Leigh felt he didn't fit in because he was very literary. I think this is a link to the character of Laurence, whom is very like Leigh. Leigh's father was a doctor and openly disapproved of his son's interest in drama and theatre.
Leigh writes the character of Laurence as a man whose intellect is unappreciated. I think this is a reflection of Leigh's feelings as a young man. Leigh's films and plays offer a 'slice of life realism' usually choosing down to earth subjects. Abigail's Party mocks the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. Leigh obviously feels some animosity towards middle class people as, by status, they are perceived to be better than he, a working class Jew. But intellectually and culturally, he is superior. The play was aired on BBC, a popular channel for the British middle class.
It can only be assumed that Leigh enjoyed the idea of the very people he criticised in the play being the ones to watch it as evening entertainment. The seventies was a decade of great political upheaval. In 1970 the Conservative Party were brought to power under leadership of Edward Heath and his term was plagued with a number of strikes in almost every profession and his plan to ration electricity for businesses and factories lead to a huge strike by the miners and rail and power unions and, eventually, to the decline of his position as Prime Minister.
Labour was voted in again in 1976, under Harold Wilson, and then James Callaghan. But the Governments failure to deal with the rising unemployment problem paved way for a glorious Tory Win in 1979, under Margaret Thatcher's guidance. She was the first female Prime Minister ever to rule Britain. None of these iconic political highlights are mentioned at all in the play. It emphasises Beverley's ignorance towards politics as the strikes and energy rationing will have been an important aspect of her husbands work.
But her unsympathetic attitude towards him leads us to assume that she may have been aware, but not at all interested in these topics, this can also be said for other characters in the play. In 1970 the equal pay act gave women the same pay as men for similar jobs. This recognised women as independent workers. Three years later, women were allowed to join the stock exchange. In '74 contraceptives became free for women on the NHS and a year after this maternity leave became a legal requirement and the sex discrimination act was created.
In 1976 the domestic violence act was in order and by the end of the decade the first ever female Prime Minister lead Britain. But strangely, none of this is mentioned in the play, apart from when divorce is brought up, and it seems Women's Lib. and permissiveness is to blame. Angela and Beverly rely on men. Tony wont let Angela drive, and it seems domestic violence may be a concealed problem in their relationship. In fact the only independent woman in the play is Susan. Having said that Angela has created a successful career for herself, despite this she still relies on Tony for a lift to work.
In the Seventies' the first big house price boom meant that there was a lot more money available to put into the construction of houses and consequently more variation appeared, though not in a regional sense. However, that variation wasn't often seen within each estate as having only one house style per estate allowed building companies to achieve economies of scale. The layouts of the estates were less rigid than before as developers used curved road lines and non-rectangular plots to disguise the uniformity.
This will have been a good time for Laurence, financially, as he will have profited from this sudden rise in housing costs. It could be said that it was seen as a particularly successful career at the time and therefore it would be very fitting for Leigh to have written Laurence as an estate agent. The idea of Laurence being successful and rich will have suited Beverly's character very well, as she is written as a kept woman. This play is still very popular today as it focuses on universal themes and issues. Leigh's naturalistic approach to the performance makes the plot believable and enjoyable to watch.