Touring – reviewed at Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Guest reviewer: Holly Bridges
I am a huge fan of Mike Leigh’s classic play Abigail’s Party, therefore it is difficult to imagine any current touring production doing it justice. However, upon entering the Orchard Theatre auditorium, and being transported back to the Seventies via an impressive set, complete with brown décor and cheese plants, any apprehensions regarding Sarah Esdaile’s version quickly subside.
As our hostess with the ‘mostess’, Beverly Moss sashays into the room to the sounds of Donna Summer, complete with long, printed maxi dress and a drink in hand, it is clear she is out to impress. This role was famously played by the inimitable Alison Steadman in the original, and whilst these are gold heels which are impossible to fill, Jodie Prenger is excellent as Beverly.
We watch as Beverly’s stressed husband, Laurence (played by Daniel Casey) deals with yet another business matter on the telephone whilst she looks on irritably; just one of many fractious moments which go on to scatter the evening. It’s as her guests arrive that Prenger really comes into her own, with Beverly flitting between the sofa, cocktail cabinet and nibbles, all the while her shoulders arched and ready to schmooze.
Vicky Binns plays Angela, the slightly naïve and very eager to please nurse, who is new to the area and neighbour of Beverly and Laurence. She is joined by reluctant husband Tony, who sits sullenly in a chair as ‘Ange’ chatters on. Binns nails the role, with the audience darting between feelings of slight annoyance at her inane conversation, to those of pity as Tony belittles her.
Thrown into the mix of this farcical soiree is the fifth character, Sue. A middle-aged, intelligent divorcee, and now single mother, we are led to believe that Sue has been invited over by Beverly in order to ‘save’ her from her fifteen-year-old daughter’s (Abigail) party in a neighbouring property. Rose Keegan plays the part of Sue extremely well, all soft tones and worrying nods, this is a woman who is clearly out of her depth in this environment.
There is no doubt that Beverly is awful, yet she is also completely enthralling as we see her try to flirt up a storm with ‘Tone’ and attempt to haul herself up the class ladder as she makes constant comparisons between herself and her guests, whilst also force feeding them cheese and pineapple!
It is the fraught and somewhat uncomfortable moments between each of the warring couples which occasionally give the play a slightly unhappier tinge, as the sometimes-awkward laughter from the audience suggests. Beverly’s withering put-downs of Laurence, however, cannot help but draw genuine chuckles. Casey’s performance as her long-suffering partner is excellent, but let’s face it, who could ever win when up against the force of nature that is Beverly?
Abigail’s Party does not disappoint, and whilst nothing could ever match up to such a classic piece of work as the original, this production is full of laughs, perfect details and moments that will leave you squirming in your seat (in a good way!) Little top-up, anyone?