Review: Abigail's Party, Theatre Royal, by Alan Geary
Since it first appeared in 1977 Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh has acquired classic status. About a drinks and nibbles party that ends up going haywire, what with the middle-class suburban angst, it occupies something of the territory of Ayckbourn.
The party we see is not actually Abigail's but Beverley's. Fifteen-year-old Abigail is throwing another party further down the road – we never see it but we can hear it, alarmingly too well at times. Her worried to death mother, Susan, a single parent, is a guest at Beverley's party.
It happens, of course, on a beautifully observed sitting room seventies set, the sort of thing people have if they dutifully change their furniture and fittings at the start of every decade. So there's a row of LPs, a multi-volume encyclopaedia (unread), a set of Dickens (unread), and a Complete Works of Shakespeare (also unread).
Beverley is Hannah Waterman in a long green number and lots of hair. Husband Laurence is Martin Marquez with a moustache and a nasal accent – everyone knows a bloke who speaks like him. He's a workaholic estate agent, and utterly boring. Both are superbly well played.
Angela (Kate Lightfoot) and husband Tony (Samuel James), from up the road, have just moved into the neighbourhood. Since they're aspirational middle class, they're fair game for patronising – and patronised they are, by Beverley and Tony.
Susan, the one with the partying daughter, is beautifully played by Emily Raymond. It's partly the hair, partly the shoulder bag, but when she comes on she looks like a cross between Princess Diana (early version) and a social worker.
The evening is painful. It's not just the cheese and pineapple sticks; or the one Angela tells us about, a curry dish made out of a tin of pilchards mixed with onion and curry powder. It's the Essex/London accents, the inconsequential talk about house prices, and the way that Beverley and Angela keep rubbing in the word "vomit" after Susan has done just that. It's the tasteless way that Beverley flirts with and flaunts herself in front of Tony. And to see the whole cast of a play, all five of them, merrily smoking as if there was no such thing as cancer is staggering.
Directed by Lindsay Posner, this is a joint offering from Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Chocolate Factory Productions.
This is more than worth braving the weather to go out to see.
Abigail's Party is at the Theatre Royal till Saturday, 26th January