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Abigail’s Party

by on 28 May 2022

Social Climbing Seventies Style

Abigail’s Party

by Mike Leigh

Teddington Theatre Club at The Coward Studio, Hampton Hill until 28th May

Review by David Marks

Abigail’s Party is one of those plays that is so well known it has become the stuff of legend.   Its famous lines, background music and artwork are so familiar that they’ve become part of the national consciousness.  So it was with no little trepidation that I entered the Coward Studio at Hampton Hill Theatre to see TTC’s production of this modern classic.

I need not have worried.   Set designers Wesley Henderson Roe and Fiona Auty, together with props mistress Jacqui Grebot had conspired to transport their audience back to the 1970’s with excellent attention to detail – from “leather look” sofa to wine bottle candle stick.   The space was configured in the traverse, which worked well to bring the audience into the action.   Because of this configuration, however only half the audience were able to see Beverly and Laurence’s “kitchen” – the most ingenious use of a fire escape I’ve ever seen.  Gary Stevenson’s lighting design was the icing on the design cake; as well as “stage” lighting, ceiling light fittings and the obligatory lava lamp all added to the general ambience.   As did the soundscape from Charles Halford, who must have had lots of fun researching the “sound of the 70s” for the pre-show music.   Demis Roussos and Jose Feliciano made their obligatory performances, too.

The pressure on the actors not to produce carbon copies of the TV versions and yet to live up to audience expectations is immense in this play and TTC’s quintet did not disappoint.   They were helped in no small way by Lesley Alexander’s costume creations; the costumes had it all: cheap, Prince of Wales checked suit for Laurence, pretend Laura Ashley for Angela, matching shirt and tie for Tony and a quite OTT creation of peach froth for Beverly.   All were in contrast to the muted shades and more formal look of Sue.

TTC’s actor all rose to the occasion, giving performances that were alternately moving, poignant, hysterically funny and excruciatingly embarrassing.   Bill Compton’s Laurence was the typical “yuppie” of the time, but with a soft centre.   Despite his obvious ambition and hard won relative success, in the moments he spoke about art and literature it was almost heart-breaking to see his aspirations and inadequacies revealed.   His final scene was equally shocking and moving.    Juanita Al-Dahhan as Sue made something much more of the character than is usual.   In Al-Dahhan’s hands Sue was not a one-dimensional character merely making up the numbers; she was a person in her own right and had a light shone on her own inadequacies.   Hannah Lobley and Josh Clarke as newcomers Ange and Tony were a joy to behold.   The monosyllabic Clarke as Tony was very funny, but the underlying resentment for his lost career and the wife who, despite appearing subservient, puts him down at every opportunity was never far from the surface.   Hannah Lobley’s Ange was extremely annoying (as she is meant to be) and yet at the end of the play when she is required to take control she demonstrated a whole different side to her character, and it is this side that we hope will save her from becoming the monster that is Beverly the hostess.

And as for that monster, inextricably linked to the original Alison Steadman performance – the big question of the evening was “is there any other way to play the monstrous Beverly?”.   The answer is a resounding “yes”!  Of course there are certain lines that lend themselves to that original delivery (and if it’s not broke then don’t fix it) but Mia Skytte managed to find the human side to the hostess from Hell.   I doubt that anyone in the audience would want Beverly as a neighbour but nobody could fail to be moved by her reaction at the end of the play, and throughout the evening it became evident that this socially climbing, inappropriate, gin swilling horror was in fact a deeply unhappy and unsatisfied woman trying so hard to gain acceptance and status. 

Abigail’s Party was a somewhat claustrophobic evening – actually being inside Beverly’s living room and suffering the awkward silences together with the cast gave the play an immersive edge that added to the overall experience.   The play was directed by Ian Kinane, and it was a surprise to see that he was making his directorial debut.   Let us hope that his first directing experience will not be his last.   

David Marks, May 2022

Photography by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

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