BWW Review: ABIGAIL'S PARTY, Theatre Royal Brighton
Those who have attended an excruciatingly awkward cocktail party will revel in this production of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh.
The play premiered in 1977 at London's Hampstead Theatre and was recorded for the BBC in the same year. This touring version, directed by Sarah Esdaile, launched at Brighton's Theatre Royal.
Set in "theoretical Romford" suburbia, Beverly (Jodie Prenger) and her husband Laurence (Daniel Casey) have invited their new neighbours, Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Calum Callaghan), round for drinks, as well as their other neighbour, Sue, who has been ostracised from the house party of her teenager, Abigail. As the alcohol flows, tensions rise throughout the evening as small talk and views are shared.
Prenger glides around the stage as insistent host Beverly. Never short of providing either top-ups or an opinion, the audience thoroughly enjoy her take on the domestic diva.
Laurence is well portrayed by Casey as he journeys from appeasing and patient husband to erratic co-host, as he imposes his tastes in music and art on his guests in response to Beverly's similar efforts throughout the evening.
Binns brings a sweet naivety to Angela as she shares the mundane aspects of being new homeowners - and perhaps shares a little too much about Tony and their marriage. She quickly switches into work mode when her experience as a fully trained nurse is required.
Callaghan hilariously portrays the agony of being stuck in the middle of uninspiring conversation and performs the volcanic nature of Tony's temper with heart-stopping angst.
Ostracised from her own home, Sue - brilliantly played by Rose Keegan - puts up with the antics and intrusive questions of the party attendees. The gentle lilt in her voice perfectly fits Sue's reserved nature.
Jent Bird's vintage design of a wood-panelled living room immediately transports the audience back to the 1970s, as do the costumes: Beverly in a long, flowing paisley gown, and plenty of flares and corduroy on stage. Details such as the retro glassware and pineapple and cheese cocktail sticks add to the atmosphere.
Movement direction by Lucy Cullingford effectively creates the feel of a cramped living room when dancing ensues.
Paul Pyant's lighting design effectively mimics the cosy lighting of a suburban household, particularly when the guests start fiddling with the dimmer switch.
Though there is much to laugh at during the party's proceedings, there is sympathy to be had for the two couples and Sue, as the strains of their individual situations comes to light.
A polished play in its design and delivery, Abigail's Party is a funny, nostalgia-filled snapshot of married life in the Seventies.
Abigail's Party at Theatre Royal Brighton until 19 January and then continues on tour.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan