Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh
After a triumphant West End run, Lindsay Posner’s revival of one of the most popular plays ever written is touring the UK and landed in Brighton last night.
Donna Summer is playing on the stereo. Dishes of cheese and pineapple are on the coffee table… the social get-together from hell is about to begin..
Abigail’s Party is a suburban situation comedy of manners, and a ruthless satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. It’s also anchored deeply into the music and taste of the time which can make it slightly impenetrable if you’re not familiar with the play/film or the attitudes of the times.
However from the packed house on opening night it was clear that most of the audience had seen the film, and rather a few times if the muttering of lines and cackles of glee were to be judged. This was one of the gayest audiences I’ve seen in a long time, Abigail’s Party has a huge cult following and it was out in force tonight, Beverley’s Battalions filled the stalls.
Hannah Waterman was an excellent Beverley with good crisp comic timing, folding in a lot of physical comedy to convey multi-layered messages dredged out the shallows of Beverley’s character. She was a warm and fun personality with the cold lethal glimmer of the undertones of a bored frustrated and ultimately unfulfilled housewife. My companion (who had not seen the film) felt she acted brilliantly.
Martin Marquez was ok as Laurence but was locked in a performance that came cross as something from ‘only fools and horses’ and I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not, but he won the audience over and with his nasal whining voice and air of superiority got the part nailed down from the off. His heart attack was a bit underplayed, the only bit which was.
Katie Lightfoot’s Angela had long blonde hair and didn’t look dowdy enough with her long blonde hair but got the pitch just right and Samuel James as Tony had the right kind of oily secure sexiness and you could imagine him as a former footballer. The set reflected the 1970s and the wardrobes were also spot on, small details adding to the atmosphere.
The audience laughed a lot, they appeared to know all the in jokes and laughed a touch to early on occasions, how irritating are those queens who want to show they know everything, sigh… Although some people left during the interval the applause at the end of the night was very loud, I’m not sure if folks left early due to the play being a bit slow to start and the freezing weather outside or just that they were bored, the cast got a rousing applause to end though.
This was a polished and accomplished production and it’s clear the cast are enjoying themselves, although to be trapped in a repeat production of Abigail’s Party must be some kind of special actors hell. I wonder if a few of those endlessly poured Gin & Tonics might be real to help get the cast through the night.
To be honest I was a bit bored by it, and I love the play, not sure why that was either as there are no obvious faults with this production, my companion didn’t enjoy it much, was unsure about the motivations behind Toni’s endless assault on Angela and thought the Heart attack/leg cramps ludicrous, but she’s young and thought it was all a bit silly.
As with all Mike Leighs’ work this is about the minute dissection of a certain type of triumph of self delusion and the spearing of pretension and on this level it wins.
It’s ironic that a play rooted and born from improvisation has become such a lip-sync fixed formula for the diehards.
So, one for the fans, but a good one.
(Anyway, sod ‘im, let’s all have another drink. Come on, Ange.)
For more information or to book tickets see the website here:
Until Saturday 6th April