by Mike Leigh.
Theatre Royal: Tour to 4 May 2013.
Run s 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 21 January.
A period piece rather than a classic.
We’re at a party – not actually Abigail’s but Beverley’s. Fifteen-year-old Abigail is throwing another party down the road; we never see it but we can hear it, worryingly well at times. Her anxiety-ridden mother, Susan, the only properly middle-class figure in the play, is a guest at Beverley’s.
Abigail’s Party is a period piece rather than a classic. It’s too time and place specific – seventies suburbia – to be the latter. To see the whole cast of a play merrily smoking as if there’s no such thing as cancer is staggering. But since it first appeared in 1977 it has acquired cult status, partly no doubt because of Alison Steadman, the original Beverley.
There’s a beautifully observed seventies sitting-room set, the sort of living space people have if they change furniture and fittings every decade: the 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 an OTT green number and lots of hair. Husband Laurence, an utterly boring and workaholic estate agent, is Martin Marquez with a moustache and a nasal delivery – everyone knows a bloke who speaks like him. Both are superbly well-played.
So are Angela (Kate Lightfoot) and husband Tony (Samuel James). New to the neighbourhood, and aspirational middle class, they’re fair game for patronising. And patronised they are, by Beverley and Tony.
Susan is beautifully played by Emily Raymond. What with the hairstyle and shoulder bag, she looks like a cross between Princess Diana (early version) and a social worker.
The evening is toe-curling. It’s not just the cheese and pineapple sticks; or Angela’s description of a “curry” made out of a tin of pilchards mixed with onion and curry powder. It’s the Essex/London accents, the competitive talk about house prices, and the way that Beverley and Angela keep harping on the word “vomit” after Susan has done just that. It’s the sex-starved Beverley’s tasteless flirting with, and flaunting herself in front of, Tony.
Directed by Lindsay Posner, this is a joint offering from Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Chocolate Factory Productions.
Beverley: Hannah Waterman.
Laurence: Martin Marquez.
Angela: Katie Lightfoot.
Tony: Samuel James.
Susan: Emily Raymond.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
21-26 Jan 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Nottingham 0115 989 5555 www.trch.co.uk
28 Jan-2 Feb Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
4-9 Feb 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm His Majesty’s Aberdeen 01224 641122 www.boxofficeaberdeen.com
4-9 March 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0844 811 2121 www.theatreroyal.co.uk
29 April-4 May 7.30pm mat Wed & Sat 2pm The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) Salford 0843 208 6000 www.thelowry.com