Sarah Esdaile squeezes every bit of humour out of Mike Leigh’s bitter comedy ABIGAIL’S PARTY but ultimately undercuts the emotional impact of the ending
As someone who never lived through the 1970s, I always imagine the era to be a mix of bell-bottomed flares, big afros, disco music and dodgy moustaches. These very thoughts were confirmed as the curtain was raised for Mike Leigh’s iconic ABIGAIL’S PARTY at Manchester’s Opera House.
Set in 1970s suburbia, ABIGAIL’S PARTY follows Beverly (Jodie Prenger) and her husband Laurence (Daniel Casey) who are throwing a party for their newlywed neighbours, Tony (Calum Callaghan) and Angela (Vicky Binns). Joining them is highly strung Sue (Rose Keegan) who has been banished from a party at her own home by her teenage daughter Abigail. As the alcohol flows and tensions begin to rise, the sheen of respectability is slowly torn away by the warring couples with hilarious and potentially disastrous consequences.
Janet Bird’s vintage set design provides the perfect backdrop of this excruciatingly awkward cocktail party, looking every bit the part with its chintzy curtains, obligatory sheepskin rug, multiple spider plants and acres of pine panelling. The attention to detail is exquisite here, from the retro glassware to the free-flowing cocktails and pineapple and cheese cocktail sticks. The same can be said for Yvonne Milnes’ costumes which are fittingly hideous, from Lawrence’s tan shirt and brown tie combo to Beverly’s long, flowing paisley gown.
Jodie Prenger makes for a lascivious Beverly, gliding around the stage, cigarette hanging from her mouth as she top-ups her guests’ drinks and offers an opinion. While her portrayal of the overbearing hostess will never match up to that of Alison Steadman, her take as the domestic diva is genuinely funny, particularly as the character falls deeper into inebriation.
Daniel Casey is also strong as her husband Laurence, delivering the perfect combination of pent up fury and helplessness as he imposes his tastes in music and art onto his guests. Elsewhere, CORONATION STREET’s Vicky Binns impresses as the naïve and spirited Angela, while Calum Callaghan is convincing as the boorish Tony.
But the real comedy in Sarah Esdaile’s touring production comes from Rose Keegan as the mild-mannered Sue, who quietly puts up with the antics and intrusive questions from the host Beverly and other party attendees.
Played almost at the pitch of farce, Director Esdaile squeezes every bit of humour out of Leigh’s bitter comedy but as such, allows little room for the escalation of tension, ultimately undercutting the emotional impact of the ending.
That said, while the décor may be dated, Leigh’s study in relations certainly hasn’t, the witty script and character archetypes still standing the test of time. A painfully funny and polished revival of life in a decade that taste forgot.
ABIGAIL’S PARTY runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 13 April 2019
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.