Mike Leigh’s play is a paean to loneliness and longing that paints a portrait of a group of old friends catching up on a Friday night.
1979. The winter of discontent is over and Margaret Thatcher’s regime is about to transform the country. Stuck in her cramped Kilburn bedsit, Jean is trying to live some sort of life, trapped in a cycle of hopeless dalliances with violent men and continually drowning her sorrows. After an unexpected home invasion by the furious wife of her latest lover, she is persuaded by friend Dawn to throw a little get-together that evening for old times’ sake. Joining them is Dawn’s Irish husband, Mick and their old pal, Len for a drunken celebration of their mutual affection, filled with memories and songs from their youth. It is only after the fun has died down that Jean reveals the full extent of her aching melancholy.
Ecstasy was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 1979 with a cast that included Julie Walters, Stephen Rea and Jim Broadbent – all of them virtual unknowns at the time. In an unprecedented move, Mike Leigh returned to the play twenty-two years later when it was revived at the same venue in 2011. The revival transferred to the West End later that year and garnered excellent reviews.