by Mike Leigh.
Theatre by the Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 6 November 2015.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 August.
Thoughtful revival of Beaujolais Nouveaux riches comedy.
Two of this year’s Theatre By the Lake productions revive plays originally seen in Hampstead. Both are the better for the freer Cumbrian air. I recall sitting innocently in Hampstead Theatre’s first revival of Abigail’s Party, and being suddenly engulfed in a tsunami (as we’d now say) of laughter when Beverly mentions putting Beaujolais in the fridge.
A helpful Keswick programme note assures me that’s not such a solecism. The play is full of social class indicators which over the decades, helped by a TV recording made within months of the 1977 premiere, have merged into a visual and aural Chamber of 1970s Horrors.
Revivals should challenge as well as confirm, and Ian Forrest’s Keswick production does both. The period’s exuberant affluence, not yet apparent as built on debt, pulsed-up by glossy mag and colour TV advertising, gives neighbours Beverly and Angela, plus the husbands they bring in tow, a liberation Beverly confidently indulges.
Alison Steadman’s commanding performance in 1977 defined the character vividly. But despite being engulfed in a huge patterned dress – more civic reception than neighbours round for drinks – Polly Lister registers Beverly’s certainty, without the four-wheel drive onslaught with which Steadman demolished everything in the way.
This production’s major shift is in her sidekick Ange. In 1977, Janine Duvitski formed Angela in constant retreat and meek subservience. The fair-haired, open-featured Frances Marshall asserts simply by her appearance. Tact, not nerves, restrains her, and when Angie’s nursing expertise is needed it’s no surprise she can take control.
Forrest’s production gives a focus to the comparatively quiet discussion after the interval where the play’s three women are alone, indicating the possibility of lives measured by more than suburban material success.
Jonny McPherson’s tall, elegant physique fits strangely with monosyllabic ex-footballer Tony, but he and Cate Hamer as the semi-detached mother of teenage Abigail, partying noisily down the street, do well enough while Richard Earl, impressive throughout this Keswick season, shows Laurence as a heart-attack waiting to happen, unable to shrug off his suit amid the violent period colours of Martin Johns’ dead-right but never overdone open-plan living-room set.
Laurence: Richard Earl.
Susan: Cate Hamer.
Beverly: Polly Lister.
Angela: Frances Marshall.
Tony: Jonny McPherson.
Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.