Review – Abigail’s Party

Feb 26 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩ Classy

Katie Lightfoot, Hannah Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond in Abergail's Party. Production publicity photo. Touring to EdinburghKing's Theatre Newcastle upon TyneTheatre Royal RichmondRichmond Theatre PooleLighthouse GuildfordYvonne Arnaud Theatre Brighton Theatre Royal BathTheatre Royal SalfordLowry, Lyric BradfordAlhambra Milton KeynesMilton Keynes Theatre WindsorTheatre Royal SwindonWyvern CardiffNew Theatre CanterburyMarlowe

Katie Lightfoot, Hannah Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond in Abigail’s Party. Production publicity photo.

King’s Theatre
Mon 25 Feb-Sat 2 Mar
Review by Thom Dibdin

Slickly presented and solidly performed, the Theatre Royal Bath/Chocolate Factory touring revival of Abigail’s Party is a real treat at the King’s Theatre until Saturday.

The measure of any modern production of Mike Leigh’s 1977 play is its ability to transcend its 70s setting. The decade has to be obvious otherwise the comedy gets lost – but overplay it, and the real tragedies on show become overshadowed.

Lindsay Posner’s direction – recreated for the tour by Tom Attenborough – gets it just about right, as Essex couple Beverly and Laurence invite younger, newly arrived neighbours Angela and Tony round for the evening. Also invited is divorcee Susan, whose 15 year-old daughter Abigail is holding her own party just a few doors away.

Everything about the Beverly and Laurence’s house screams trendy 70s fashion-victim. The brown and orange colour scheme, the giant sideboard unit with built-in bar and music centre (all the better for playing Demis Roussos), the shag-pile white rug and the smoked-glass coffee table are straight out of a Sunday Supplement.

And Posner lets all the language and attitudes of the era roll off her characters. The revelation of Angela’s outrageous dress-sense is beautifully timed, while Beverly’s obsession with cigarettes – and Laurence’s with olives – rings quite true.

A big whiff of pent-up sexual energy
Samuel James and Hannah Waterman in Abigail's Party. Production publicity photo.

Samuel James and Hannah Waterman in Abigail’s Party. Production publicity photo.

This is the sound of the suburbs which punk in general – and the Members in particular – railed against. And from this solid base, Posner is able to build vicious and outrageous characters.

Hannah Waterman steps out of East Enders to give Beverly a big whiff of pent-up sexual energy behind her overbearing, self-obsessed exterior. Given the long shadow cast by Alison Steadman, who originated the role, Waterman does a phenomenal job of owning the part. There is nothing premeditated about her cruelty – it is offhand and quite innate.

Martin Marquez is equally successful in bringing his own take to the role of Laurence – originally played by the somewhat more diminutive Tim Stern. Marquez has the nasal twang of the innately boring suburban estate agent and the laboured delivery to suit, while remaining on the cultural high ground relative to Beverly’s excruciating tastes.

It is in their interaction that the really meaty elements of the play work out. This is the hostility which builds in a couple when each knows exactly which of the other’s buttons to press, in order to extract the greatest damage. While their re-worked physical relationship works in building the tension.

Buy the Original
BBC production:

Emily Raymond creates a solidly middle-class character in Susan, worried about her daughter’s party – the music from which billows in on numbers from Iggy Pop, the Stranglers and the Sex Pistols. The Passenger, No More Heroes and Anarchy in the UK underline and comment on the action on stage.

Susan’s misfortunes provide many of the opportunities for Beverly’s casual acts of verbal disparagement.

Of the two younger visitors, Katie Lightfoot is a fine Angela. A willing collaborator in Beverly’s excesses, her incessant chatter is banal, irritating and delivered with just the correct amount of gauche misunderstanding.

Samuel James as the monosyllabic Tony is not quites as impressive. He gets the sexual tension between Tony and Beverly – flaunting it and sending it up beautifully – but fails to find a truly malevolent side to his character when it comes to his dealings with Laurence. There’s none of the edge between the two that can add another layer to the piece.

It’s in the men’s foray to Abigail’s party, itself, that the lack of any real tension between the two begins to detract from the play as a whole. Without it, the menace of Abigail’s party remains purely symbolic, when there is scope for finding a a much more sinister element. Particularly when it comes to the ambiguous events that happened while Tony was there alone.

This still leaves a splendid production, though. One which sings for its own supper, not that of the much lauded BBC adaptation of Mike Leigh’s original production.

Run ends Saturday 2 March 2013.
Running time 2 hours 5 mins.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street. Daily 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm, Weds, Sat). Details on the King’s Theatre website:


25 Feb–2 Mar Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0844 871 3014 Book online
4 Mar–9 Mar Newcastle upon Tyne
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
11 –16 Mar Richmond
Richmond Theatre
0844 871 7651 Book online
19 –23 Mar Poole
0844 406 8666 Book online
25 –30 Mar Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00 Book online
1 – 6 Apr Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
8-13 April Bath
Theatre Royal
01225 448844 Book online
22-27 April Windsor
Theatre Royal
01753 853 888 Book online
29 April-4 May Salford
Lowry, Lyric
0843 208 6000 Book online
6-11 May Bradford
01274 432 000 Book online
13-18 May Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
27 May-1 June Swindon
01793 524 481 Book online
4- 8 June Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
18-22 June Canterbury
01227 787787 Book online




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