Abigail is having a party. But it’s not her rowdy party that we have come to the Alexandra Theatre to view. Cast out of her own home by the titular Abigail, her mother Sue ends up at an excruciatingly awkward cocktail party, hosted by domestic diva Beverly and her henpecked husband Laurence.
Celebrating 40 years since its stage and screen debut, this is a new touring production of Mike Leigh’s iconic comedy of 1970’s aspirational suburbia. And director Sarah Esdaile, along with an excellent cast of just five performers, has brought to Birmingham this uncomfortable yet hilarious take on social relationships and dysfunctional marriages.
“Buy a Broom! Buy a Broom! Buy a Broom and Sweep the Room!“
Beverly (Jodie Prenger) and her husband Laurence (Daniel Casey) have invited their new neighbours, Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Calum Callaghan), round for drinks. Also invited is their other highly-strung neighbour, Sue (Rose Keegan) who has been banished from the rowdy house party of her teenage daughter, Abigail.
As the alcohol flows liberally, tension rises amongst the five. After all, cheese and pineapple sticks are the only food served to soak up the alcohol. Beverly, wafting around in a voluminous paisley gown, belittles her husband and patronises her guests whilst slowly sinking into inebriation. Angela and Tony’s marriage is clearly no bed of roses either, and delicate divorcee Sue uncomfortably observes as the drama around her unfolds. I bet she wishes she’d stayed at Abigail’s Party instead.
“To be quite honest with you, he’s a boring little bugger at times, actually”
Janet Bird has created a stunning period set which transports the audience back to the 1970s. Those who are old enough to remember may sneer at the tastelessness. The fibre optic lamp, spider plants, cocktail cabinet, record player, white shag pile carpet and retro glassware. Whilst no doubt also being reminded of their own childhood family homes. And yes, my parents DID have a copy of that “erotic” painting in their bedroom 😊
Jodie Prenger is grotesquely brilliant as overbearing hostess Beverly and frequently has the audience howling with laughter. Daniel Casey plays Beverly’s uptight and pretentious husband perfectly, becoming more and more erratic before an unexpected moment of tragedy. Vicky Binns, a Coronation Street and Emmerdale alumni, gives a spirited performance as naïve and tactless nurse Angela, whilst Calum Callaghan is great as the inarticulate and moody Tony, sucked into the ample bosom of Beverly. It is Rose Keegan though that vies with Jodie as star of the show with a wonderfully understated performance of ever-growing discomfort.
“Oh it’s funny. We were all getting married about the same time as you were… getting divorced!”
Mike Leigh writes complex but well- rounded characters, and despite the obvious “seventies-ness” of the piece, the characters have stood the test of time. And indeed, can be recognised in members of society today. Abigail’s Party is a hilarious and nostalgic portrayal of married life in the seventies – the performances from this cast make this adaption well worth a visit.
Interesting fact: Hornchurch Rep once tried to stage a production of Abigail’s Party with real drinks instead of pretend alcohol and didn’t make it to the second act…
Abigail’s Party is at the Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 26th January and then tours the UK until mid-April. Tickets can be purchased here.
*I was invited to attend this press event by The Alexandra Theatre, however this doesn’t affect my opinion of the show, and an honest review will be given in all cases.
**All production photos are by Manuel Harlan and are used with permission of the promoters and the Alexandra Theatre