Park Theatre – until 4 December 2021
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Mike Leigh’s 1977 comedy classic still delivers plenty of laughs. Although definitely a period piece, the characters and themes are still instantly recognisable now. In the 2020s Beverley would probably be a horrifyingly watchable influencer on social media, constantly vaping rather than offering little cigarettes.
Beverley is hosting a drinks night for new neighbours Angela and Tony, whether husband Laurence likes it or not. As Susan’s teenage daughter Abigail is having a party in their house, neighbour Susan is invited too. Full of suburban snobbery and pretentions, the hosts are keen to show off their aspirational lifestyle while seeking every opportunity to belittle their guests with every passive aggressive trick in the book. As the alcohol flows, each person’s flaws become less veiled, and tensions rise.
Some of the lines cause big audience reactions for their dated attitudes, but director Vivienne Garnett stays true to the characters and the period. The squirm inducing silences and sometimes stilted conversations between people who have only proximity in common are beautifully judged by the cast.
Beth Colley’s detailed set is wonderfully nostalgic, with the audience entering through the hallway into the VERY 70s lounge on stage. Barbara D’Alterio is fantastic as mild-mannered and pathologically polite Susan – the face of the audience’s reactions on stage. Matt Di Angelo impresses as Tony with his simmering monosyllabic answers and disapproving anger at his wife as he gradually responds to Beverley’s flirtations. Emma Noakes impresses as Angela, hilariously deadpan as she spouts naïve, revealing and unthinking truths, but snapping straight into professional authority when her nursing skills are needed – reversing the power dynamics of her marriage for a few minutes. Ryan Early is full of energy as Laurence, full of twitches and nervous energy as he struggles to maintain the image to which he and Beverley aspire. The anger and frustration he lives with as his wife constantly scoffs at him and his passions is portrayed in every syllable and look. Beverley’s vile egocentricity is captured brilliantly by Kellie Shirley. It doesn’t take long for her own fantastic performance to banish memories of Alison Steadman. Shirley pouts, preens and flirts her way through the performance with superb comic skill, never going too far and keeping the monster believable.
A stylish and assured production with a magnificent cast reminding us what a sensational play Abigail’s Party is.