Home » London Theatre Reviews » Abigail’s Party at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | Review

Abigail’s Party at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | Review

L-R Amy Downham, Melanie gutteridge, Liam Bergin & Susie Emmett
L-R Amy Downham, Melanie gutteridge, Liam Bergin & Susie Emmett

If Abigail’s Party is meant to be set in, to quote its playwright, Mike Leigh, “the London side of Essex”, and more precisely, “theoretical Romford”, a production in Hornchurch (historically a parish in the county of Essex, but now within the London Borough of Havering) is as geographically close to Leigh’s vision for the play as it gets. There have been a number of revivals over the years, and it’s easy to see why, in the relative complexities of both the characters and the lives they lead.

But if it’s an actual party you’re wanting to see on stage, it’s not to be found here. The ‘Abigail’ of the show’s title is hosting her party somewhere else. This is the home of Laurence (Christopher Staines) and Beverly (Melanie Gutteridge), and whether it is meant to or not, it looked to me at first glance more like a private bar in a hotel than a living space. As the play is set in the days before the ubiquity of mobile telephony (the first run of the play was in 1977), Laurence rushes home and at the earliest opportunity goes to the rotary dial telephone.

Tony (Liam Bergin) and Angela (Amy Downham) are also recent arrivals to the neighbourhood, while Susan (Susie Emmett) has been resident there for some years. There’s more than a fair share of talking about someone as though they are not there when they are very much present in the room, which started off being mildly amusing but quickly became unfunny. Not all of the punchlines have aged well, especially in the light of #TimesUp and #MeToo, and had it not been for this being a production faithful to its original setting and script, there could well be an argument for revising some lines here and there.

That said, there is some universality in the themes explored. When Angela takes to giving herself the grand tour of the house, she can’t help but be astonished at the mod cons at Laurence and Beverly’s disposal. Fans and followers of Abigail’s Party may be interested to know a recording of Demis Roussos (1946-2015) is heard, but not one of Donna Summer (1948-2012). Reading the programme on the way home, there is an explanation for this: “rights have been refused for the foreseeable future”. There is a substitute number, but it really would be giving too much away to say what it is.

The conversation flows freely, even if for dramatic purposes, making proceedings feel a lot less awkward than it could have been for people meeting one another for the first time in a non-neutral venue. For all the talk about home improvements and what it was like for the characters when they were teenagers, it’s interesting to observe everything going on. It seems like talking heads and not much else, because the dialogue is, overall, quite absorbing, but there’s the multiple drinks being served, cigarettes and cigars, music to be played, and miscellaneous incomings and outgoings. But the stage doesn’t feel busy for busyness’ sake.

This isn’t quite the party not to be missed, but for those old enough to remember, it’s a bittersweet trip down memory lane. A lively and dynamic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The fresh and faithful look at Mike Leigh’s iconic classic is directed by the Queen’s Theatre’s Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul. Set in seventies Romford, with Demis Roussos top of the hit parade and adults behaving disgracefully, it’s social awkwardness at its best at the drinks party from hell!

Director Douglas Rintoul
Set and Costume Designer Lee Newby
Lighting Designer Zoe Spurr
Sound Designer Ivan Stott
Casting Director Matthew Dewsbury

Tony – Liam Bergin
Angela – Amy Downham
Susan – Susie Emmett
Beverly – Melanie Gutteridge
Laurence – Christopher Staines

Tour Dates
30 Aug – 22 Sep | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
26 Sep – 20 Oct | Derby Theatre
30 Oct – 17 Nov | Salisbury Playhouse
27 – 29 Nov | Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg
4 – 22 Sep Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | 29 Sep – 20 Oct Derby Theatre

Listings information
30 Aug – 22 Sep 2018
A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and Les Théâtres de la
Ville de Luxembourg production


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