Malvern Theatres, Malvern – until 22 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Jen Franklin
Abigail’s Party was quite ground-breaking in its day, with the incomparable Mike Leigh at the helm and Alison Steadman heading up the cast as Beverly, it made waves on screen and on stage. The production that is currently on UK tour keeps to the essentials that are familiar to those who have encountered the show before, in whatever incarnation it might be – however there are subtle changes that individualise it, too. Here are some strengths of the production and observations:
Amanda Abbington~ take on an iconic role and you’ll be met with scrutiny, undoubtedly. What I liked about Abbington’s portrayal of Beverly was that she has made her own mark on the part and it was clear that she was deviating from Steadman’s way of playing the monstrous hostess. Although there were many time throughout the play when Abbington reminded me of Steadman, I realise that it’s always going to be difficult to travel so far away from the original ‘way’. Especially when the original is so popular and renowned.
Passive-Aggression~ previously, I have only seen this on television before so certain themes and elements of the script weren’t highlighted as clearly as they can be and indeed, were on stage. Passive-aggression is a theme which I associate with the story, especially in relation to Laurence (played by Ben Caplan in this piece) as the tension he’s feeling builds up until a frenzy ensues. I hadn’t taken particular notice of how passive-aggressive Tony (played by Ciaran Owens) can be. In fact in this version his ‘bullying’ of Ange (Charlotte Mills) is out there and quite uncomfortable to watch in the nicest possible way.
Staging~ the staging replicates the set that I know so well from the TV incarnation and that drew my attention from the outset. It was so authentic-looking that I could almost have been watching it on ‘the box’ and that is a great strength of this production, for me.
Ange~ Charlotte Mills played Angela very differently to Janine Duvitski who originated the character. I always felt that Duvitski played the role as a caricature whereas Mills has put a different take on it and given more substance to the role. I am aware that this noticeable change (in my opinion) could be highlighted by TV vs Stage though.
Music~ Demi Roussos has always been an artist that I associate with this show, but all of the music choices make it what it is. Yes, Demi is an integral cog, but Elvis is as much a part of the play and then there’s Laurence’s aptly timed classical ‘favourites’ too. Music can add an extra dimension to a piece and it just wouldn’t be Abigail’s Party without the soundtrack being spot on.