BWW Review: ABIGAIL'S PARTY, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Mike Leigh's iconic class comedy, Abigail's Party, has arrived at Nuffield Southampton Theatres on its UK tour.
With Jodie Prenger at the helm as the brazen Beverly, Emmerdale's Vicky Binns as Angela, and directed by Sarah Esdaile, the production immediately transports us back to the Seventies, where the carpet is shagpile, the heels are platformed, and the curtains are heavily patterned.
Beverly and her long-suffering husband Laurence (Daniel Casey) are hosting a party, complete with pineapple and cheese on sticks, of course. They've invited their new neighbours, Angela and Tony, as well as Susan, who's been ousted from her house while her daughter, Abigail, hosts a rowdy party.
As the drinks flow, tempers rise, and things grow tense. Each character reveals more and more about themselves, both in how they react to events and to each other, as the night goes on. It's a great examination of human nature, class and society that translates well over 40 years after it was written.
The set, costumes and staging are fantastic. It's a static scene; a classic 1970s-era living room with all the mod-cons, providing an ideal backdrop to drama, drinks, and discomfort. It's a delight but no distraction, encouraging the audience to focus their attention on the events unfolding before them.
Jodie Prenger is wonderfully garish as Beverly. Larger than life, outrageous and just a little too much, she evolves from the perfect (if overbearing) hostess to an almost unpleasant woman desperately losing her grip on the persona she has so carefully fashioned. The entire evening is a performance and she is the fallen star of the show.
A man at the end of his tether, Daniel Casey is also spot on as Laurence, desperately trying to balance his temper around his guests as his wife tests his patience. He is reminiscent of many Seventies male sitcom characters in his flared suit and high-powered job, but even he isn't exempt from his high-class aspirations. While his wife is fixated on glitz and glamour, Laurence places more value on the arts; but does this make him any better than Beverly?
Vicky Binns plays Angela very well too. Put down by her new friend, and clearly downtrodden in a difficult new marriage, she seems stuck in the middle but has the chance to prove herself at the show's climax.
Rose Keegan is delightful and definitely a real highlight of the cast. She plays mild-mannered Susan perfectly and manages to raise a smile with a simple and polite "No, thank you." However, even she reaches her limit by the end and is quick to put Beverly in her place when pushed. She sits exactly where Beverly aspires to be - right in the middle class - but appears to let her hostess down with her lack of glamour.
The show in itself is undoubtedly a classic. Having been written in 1977, it is naturally incredibly accurate in its representation of the era and sitting in the audience is like stepping into a time machine. With such realistic characterisation, and a detailed set perfect to the very last fibre-optic light, you instantly forget where you are and feel you are intruding on a private night between would-be friends.
Abigail's Party is an interesting exploration of class, and much has been written about this of course. There is an element of 'keeping up with the Joneses' and outdoing the neighbours that fuels the fire for bickering and disagreements.
We watch as facades fall and aspirations are let down; the show is a performance within a performance, and the layers are peeled back bit by bit. It's an issue explored in many TV sitcoms of the time, which makes this play even more familiar to the audience. It is, indeed, timeless, even though it is firmly set in the 1970s.
Despite being a vintage, this production ensures the play has aged well; it is still relatable, the characters are still familiar, and the issues they come up against are ones that still grace the halls and lounges of today's homes.
It certainly is popular with audience members who may be more acquainted with the era, and though younger audience members may not be aware of the play's cult status, it is still just as darkly funny and the characters are still the ones we see in our day-to-day lives.
This tragicomic resurrection of a classic is a trip down memory lane. An ever-relevant examination of class, culture, and humanity, Abigail's Party is visually charming and entertaining, and audiences are bound to laugh a lot more than Beverly's poor, unwitting guests.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan