So disappointed not to have been able to make this play – it’s one of my all time favourites, but my trusty fellow reviewer John O’Brien went in my place so here is his review of Abigail’s Party currently on at the Richmond Theatre and I couldn’t have said it better myself:-
Forty years on from its first showing in 1977 Abigail’s Party has stood the test of time. The current production at Richmond Theatre demonstrates beyond question that Mike Leigh’s tragi-comedy of suburban life is just as powerful, insightful, excruciatingly embarrassing and poignant as it was in 1977. The designer Janet Bird has put together a set which captures perfectly the interior design kitsch of 1970s suburbia.
The opening set shows a picture like a Dennis Hopper painting of a large window encased in bricks through which we see Beverley making the final touches as she awaits her drinks party guests. Then whoosh the set opens to reveal the living room of 13 Richmond Road. This living room is dominated by a cabinet which contains a drinks compartment, bound volumes of Shakespeare and Dickens and records ranging from James Galway, Beethoven, Donna Summer, Elvis Presley and Demis Roussos. The opening scene is a tour de force. Beverley the hostess, brilliantly portrayed by Amanda Abbington, dances around the room to “Love to Love you Baby”, the 1970s disco classic.
Famously Alison Steadman made the part of Beverley her own, indeed it made her a household name. From the moment Amanda Abbington dances around her front room you know that she has created a Beverley every bit as intriguing and fascinating as Steadman’s 1977 version. So hats off to Amanda Abbington, she has escaped the dreaded anxiety of influence and crafted her own Beverley for 2017. One reason for this is, of course, that Mike Leigh’s character is so fascinating and so compelling that she can be interpreted in so many ways. Amanda Abington’s version stresses the childless Beverley’s sexual frustration. She flirts outrageously with Tony – or “ Tone” as she calls him – her neighbour Angela’s husband. She asks Angela about Tone “is he very violent?” with the implicit subtext that she likes strong men not men “dead from the waist down” like her hapless husband, Lawrence, the workaholic estate agent and lover of high culture.
The title of the play refers to a party being held at the same time as Beverley’s drinks at the home of Sue the middle class divorced wife of an Architect whose 15 years old daughter Abigail is having a party. Abigail’s Party is ostensibly where the danger’s emanate from in the minds of the 5 adult’s assembled at 13 Richmond Road, but of course the disasters are all destined to happen at Beverly’s party not Abigail’s.
The power games and excruciatingly cringe-making goings on that result from this truly awful drinks party are brilliantly brought out in this superb production. Sue – played by Rose Keegan – is a wonderful study in the dilemma of a nice well-mannered middle class person faced by a social manipulator like Beverley. The way Beverley continually inveigles Sue to a) drink G & T even though she asked for sherry and b) have a little top-up every ten minutes is at once funny and deeply depressing. But Sue is trapped she can’t complain because that would be bad manners.
Ben Caplan’s portrayal of Beverley’s husband Lawrence is beyond praise. He manages to be both pompous and vulnerable at the same time. In a wonderfully subtle irony he picks up on Beverley’s use of the word “Tone” to ask Sue if she has noticed any change in the tone of the area over the years. Or when he shows off his leather bound edition of Macbeth but then says “you can’t actually read it of course.”
Tony – Ciaran Owens – is wonderful as the monosyllabic ex-Crystal Palace footballer who Beverley lusts after and dances with provocatively in plain sight of them all. Her eyes light up when Angela tells her about his footballers legs. Tony’s wife Angela – Charlotte Mills – captures the social aspirations of those new to suburbia as they imitate their so called betters. The scene in which Beverley gives Angela tips on how to apply her lipstick has rightly become a classic. “I want you to say I’ve got very beautiful lips ok”?
Since the 1970s more and more of us have migrated to the suburbs. As we do, we too grapple with the strange way of life the suburbs has compelled us to navigate. The grotesque but poignant tragi-comedy played out between these 5 archetypes – Beverly, Lawrence, Angela, Tony and Sue – of that suburbia are as pertinent to us now as they were 40 years ago. We too drink, smoke, exchange platitudes, dance embarrassingly, make faux pas, eat olives, cheese/pineapple on a stick, boast about our houses/mortgages, get divorced, worry about our teenage children, flirt with our neighbour’s partners and more. In these and innumerable other ways Abigail’s Party holds a mirror up to us all and it’s not a pretty sight. I suspect that Abigail’s Party like Demise Roussos is set to run “For Ever and Ever”.