Grand Opera House York until Saturday 2nd Feb 2019
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
Abigail’s Party is a well known Mike Leigh play, if you’re of a certain age. Playing now at the Grand Opera House York, directed by Sarah Esdaile. It’s a flashback to the 70’s with its style and characters.
The play focuses around five characters, Beverly (Jodie Prenger) and husband Laurence (Daniel Casey), Ange (Vicky Binns) and husband Tony (Calum Callaghan), and single mother Sue (Rose Keegan). Beverly is hosting a soirée with nibbles and an endless supply of alcohol, gin and tonic being the favoured tipple. As her guests arrive we get to see the different personalities and relationships, Ange just wants to please, Tony would rather be anywhere else, Sue is rather posh and is too refined to say no and Laurence just seems a bit square. Beverly is a forceful personality, overwhelming a lot of the time, demanding attention from her guests and the audience.
Whilst the action, if you can call it that, is happening on the stage we can hear Abigail, Sue’s daughter, hosting her own, more livelier party, a few doors down. The atmosphere at Beverly’s is awkward and uncomfortable to watch. She has a nasty habit of railroading her guests, forcing Sue to constantly have top ups, flirting outrageously with Tony, with no discretion. With not much happening in terms of action, we bear witness to the agonising, yet comical, attempt to host a successful gathering, constantly stuck in the awkward phase.
Jodie Prenger takes on the role as the overbearing Beverly with power and a great amount of stage presence. She is the star of the show, encapsulating the character fully. My plus one said afterwards that her character reminded him of Gavin’s mother from Gavin and Stacey, not realising that Alison Steadman played Beverley in the tv play. Two great actresses, one character. The others characters are somewhat eclipsed by Beverly, but the actors behind them did a tremendous job, lending to the comedy and quality of the production.
The dialogue provides a lot of the comedic context within the play, by the reuse of certain lines, such as Beverly’s “do you know what I mean?” after every sentence and Sue’s “no (pause and then) thank you”. The constant refilling of glasses, even when not wanted, is quite hilarious, along with arguments over music and olives.
The staging had iconic items from the 70’s, such as a soda syphon and a fibre optic light, the ones that look a bit like a spaceship. I had to laugh at that one because I remember my parents having one. It is a simple, naturalistic set with no major frills, just walls opening up to reveal a sitting room resplendent with 70’s decor. Each character had unique styles reminiscent of the decade, with kaftans, dodgy moustaches and bowl cuts.
The big question is why Abigail’s Party and not Beverly’s?
I enjoyed watching the performance, and it did have some laugh out load moments, however the style of the play and it’s lack of action (I realise that is not what the play is all about) doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for me. It is still worth a watch, especially if you’re 25 or younger, as York Council have teamed up to offer tickets for just £5, giving the opportunity to access the theatre at a truly affordable price.