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Life in a Petri Dish: Abigail’s Party

26 April 2017

 

Abigail’s Party

by Mike Leigh

Richmond Theatre 

Review by Eleanor Lewis

 

Forty years after its first performance at Hampstead Theatre, Abigail’s Party has returned to the stage in Richmond, appropriately kitted out in chrome, genuine leather and plenty of shag pile.

The draw of Abigail’s Party is that most of us have sat, furtively watching the clock, through at least one event hosted by a ‘Beverly’ and peopled by characters like those invited to her drinks party.  Excruciating and thrilling at the same time it’s like watching human life on a petri dish.  The challenge when directing it is in hitting the balance between the easy laughs to be had at the expense of people who put red in the fridge (because we know better), whilst at the same time respecting those carefully created characters rather than treating them as caricatures.  Beverly’s guests, as they descend into an increasingly fraught, Bacardi and gin fuelled evening, reveal the state of the three relationships on view – dead, dying and might be just about salvageable – and so much else besides.  Director Sarah Esdaile hit the balance perfectly.

A huge exterior view of the outside of Beverly’s house opened out to reveal the inside as the action began, bringing to mind Pete Seeger’s 1963 hit Little Boxes satirising suburban America: “neat”.  The little box in question glowed with Paul Pyant’s bright, slightly oppressive lighting and inside, writhing around in a Love to Love You Baby reverie, was Beverly.

Amanda Abbington’s Beverly, a suburban sex-siren-with-rotisserie was a joy to watch and very nicely pitched.  This was no screeching, vulgar Beverly but rather a woman with a wide array of issues that she was blissfully unaware of, zero self-knowledge and an uncompromising need to control everyone around her by whatever means was most effective.  “Have another drink Susan, no have another drink Susan!” being one regular reaffirmation of her dominance.

Abigail's Party

The beleaguered Susan was played impressively by Rose Keegan.  Subjected to bursts of the relentless, interview-type questioning which Beverly and Angela viewed as conversation, Susan was ultimately patronised as a poor soul for losing her man.  Rose Keegan’s ability to portray Susan as a reserved but rounded character and also one with a hint of a sense of humour was striking, given that she was equipped only with very short or monosyllabic lines with which to do it.

A strong supporting cast did full justice to this comic-tragic social snapshot.  Ben Caplan as Beverly’s husband, Laurence, portrayed a man certainly leading a life of desperation, though not of the quiet type.  The man who worked himself to death in 1977, a signal of the state of work-related expectations to come.

Abigail’s Party can’t be the most straightforward of plays to perform, you can’t – ironically – put it into a particular box to classify it but you can mine a lot of entertainment from it.  This production was very entertaining on many levels and this reviewer is now off to make sure she applies lipstick to every single corner of her mouth. Cheers!

Eleanor Lewis

April 2017

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From → Drama, Reviews

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