Abigail’s Party received its premiere in 1977 where it was a modern day look at life of the time. Jump forward to 2012 and it’s a nostalgic look at the 1970s with gaudy wallpaper and a furry rug to boot! Set designer Mike Britton captures the era perfectly. The BBC aired the play with the now infamous Alison Steadman in the role of Beverley, and it stood to reason that Jill Halfpenny had a lot to live up to. But from the moment she sashayed on in her slinky green dress, I was sold!
The play focussed on a party being held by Beverley and her estate agent husband Laurence. Jill Halfpenny plays the part of the overbearing hostess so well that by the end I knew the awkward silences that usually form at small gatherings would be easily filled with small talk and force-feeds of alcohol and cigarettes. Her guests are new neighbours Tony and Angela, and Susan whose daughter Abigail (who we never see) is having the party as the title suggests.
Natalie Casey plays Angela as a downtrodden wife who has a tendency of speaking without thinking and who you think doesn’t really get out much. She doesn’t overdo what could easily be a caricature, and you feel sad for her when you see she is quite unhappy in her her marriage. Her husband (played by Joe Absolom) is someone who puts up with what he has rather than wanting to be with her. Another unhappy marriage is Beverly and Laurence (played outstandingly by Andy Nyman). There’s is a more violent and argumentative relationship, and in a way it seems that their constant strive to be right is what makes them happy, rather than the marriage itself. Susannah Harker gives another fantastic performance, playing Susan brilliantly. She may say “Thank you” over and over out of politeness, but every single one was played with a different intonation. It really was fantastic to watch!
This play is filled with more arguments than guests, with a constant flow of Gin & Tonics and Light Ale – but it is also full of laughs and nostalgia. You will leave glad you came, and noticing your newly found ‘Beautiful Lips’.
Review by Danielle Morris
Charing Cross Rd
Saturday 26th May, 2012