by Mike Leigh.
Wyndham’s Theatre 32 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 1 September 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu, Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 May.
Suburban hell held up for laughs.
Abigail will be about 50 by now, and the characters onstage in the play with her name, those still alive, drawing their state pension. What was a state-of-the-artless view of private housing-estate life in 1977, is now a period portrait.
Abigail’s Party is merely reported upon, sounding like something out of Alan Ayckbourn, described by characters with an Ayckbourn-like lack of understanding.
Yet recent revivals of Ayckbourn’s near-contemporaneous Absent Friends point the differences. It’s partly the characters’ base in their creators. Alison Steadman’s comic brilliance and precise exaggeration makes Beverly, John Salthouse’s previous career playing for Crystal Palace informs Tony.
Those creators are still evident in Lindsey Posner’s revival, as surely as the marks of any playwright. Jill Halfpenny doesn’t have Steadman’s manner, so her Beverly grows nastier quicker. But she makes points clearly; keeping up with the Jones is one thing. For Beverly, being the Jones means reminding everyone you’re still ahead of the competition; others’ houses are smaller or older. There’s confident assertion as she strides off, Beaujolais in hand, to put it in the fridge.
Her play for Tony – because he’s someone else’s husband and a lifeline from her frustrated marriage – is obvious, her put-downs of Laurence open humiliation.
Andy Nyman’s Laurence looks more the candidate for the seizure she uses as a weapon rather than a warning than did Tim Stern in 1977. It removes an element of surprise, but Nyman stands up for his character. His opening ‘phone conversations show the hell of being an estate agent – rather as Mike Britton’s set and Howard Harrison’s lighting create a room-divided, orange-papered hell for the play – and the hell of his home-life emerges in the search for a soul-mate in Abigail’s mother, an awkward visitor unsure of her place in Susannah Harker’s performance, which seems to search for a way to join the others’ comic aspects.
Perhaps it’s the production overall, with Natalie Casey’s near-robotic Angela, and only Joe Absalom’s Tony gloomily monosyllabic beyond the reach of laughs. Posner reaches for those and grabs a lot, emphasising how near to modern sitcom the play can seem.
Beverly: Jill Halfpenny.
Laurence: Andy Nyman.
Angela: Natalie Casey.
Tony: Joe Absalom.
Susan: Susannah Harker.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Assistant director: Tom Attenborough.