Touring – reviewed at New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Guest reviewer: Melanie Mitchell ★★★★
I am old enough to have seen the original televised play for today of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party in 1977 and have loved it ever since. Therefore, I was really looking forward to seeing Sarah Esdaile’s adaptation of this iconic piece and I wasn’t disappointed.
As we entered the theatre we were greeted by the most amazing set where we could take a somewhat voyeuristic view through the windows of a typical suburban house of the seventies.
We watch as Beverly, played superbly by Jodie Prenger, flits in and out, preparing for her Party, switching on the fibre optic lamp, opening the drinks cabinet and laying out that most ubiquitous of party foods, the cheese and pineapple hedgehog.
Beverly has invited new neighbours Angela and Tony for drinks, also inviting Sue, as her teenage daughter Abigail is having a party. The play centres around these five characters and their complicated relationships. Beverly and her husband Laurence who have enormous marital problems, the mousey downtrodden Angela and her monosyllabic husband Tony and Sue the timid, socially inept divorcee.
As the drinks flow, whether the guests want them or not, the tensions rise between the partners and the group. The underlying problems begin to emerge and escalate to the 70s sounds of Donna Summer and Demis Roussos.
The play portrays the era perfectly, tapping in to the social climbing, aspirational working class often associated with the 1970s.
In the original show, Beverly is played by the amazing Alison Steadman, who created the voice of Beverly. I think that anyone who has seen the original will agree that this is one of the most important and fundamental facets of this character. I was slightly apprehensive as to how another actor would carry this off. I needn’t have worried, as from the minute Prenger spoke, she was Beverly. From her flowing psychedelic dress and cleavage to her cutting and withering remarks to Laurence, fabulous performance.
The other characters were also played brilliantly, Vicky Binns is great as the mousey, impressionable and excitable Angela. Alongside Calum Callaghan as Tony her monosyllabic husband simmering with underlying aggression. Daniel Casey gives a super performance as Laurence, the socially mobile estate agent desperate to show that he does have class. Rose Keegan is perfectly cast as Sue, she was totally believable as she squirmed uncomfortably at the others behaviour.
As previously mentioned, the set, lighting and sound design are wonderful, I was immediately transported back to the 70’s, with the orange and brown décor, the party food and the music. Not a single item of detail was missing from that room.
Mike Leigh’s original production has certainly stood the test of time with themes in the play as relevant today as they were 40 years ago.
This tragicomedy has laugh out loud moments tinged with both pathos and sadness. It is a wonderful evening out to the most uncomfortable party you may ever attend.
Abigail’s Party runs at the New Victoria Theatre until March 2nd 2019 before continuing it’s tour
photo credit: Manuel Harlan