Abigail’s Party

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered in 1977 at London’s Hampstead Theatre then broadcast on the BBC that same year, Mike Leigh’s ingenious Abigail’s Party brings to brilliant life the most painfully awkward cocktail party in the most hilarious & enthralling of ways.

Suburban housewife Beverly has set the scene for her soirée; she’s prepped the cheese & pineapple on sticks, switched on the fibre optic lamp & stocked the drinks cabinet in readiness for the arrival of new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Callum Callaghan). Also invited is neighbour Sue (Rose Keegan) who is escaping 15-year-old daughter Abigail’s party over at her own house. Beverly’s husband Lawrence (Daniel Casey) is also in attendance in between running errands while his wife prepares to schmooze.

Janet Bird’s inspired set transports us right back to the 70’s as knowing giggles ripple through the audience from the off when Beverly enters the chintzy wood panelled living room cigarette in mouth, gin in hand, decked head to toe in garish paisley she glides around the stage to the sensuous sounds of Donna Summer.

Some spikey exchanges take place between Beverly and husband Lawrence before their guests arrive offering the opportunity for our brash hostess to really come into her own. She is liberal with both the booze and her opinions as some of the small talk soon begins to sting.

Jodie Prenger is exceptional as the infamous Beverly, getting more and more grotesquely brilliant as the gin flows. So versatile in her skills she embodies the desperate housewife to perfection. Daniel Casey gives a great performance as Lawrence keeping his pent-up irritation with wife Beverly hidden to begin with until pushed to breaking point when things quickly start to unravel.

Vicky Binns as Angela is eager to please her new neighbour, her genuine naivety and optimism making her all the more endearing. Her inane chatter leads to some terse tellings off from frustrated husband Tony whom Callum Callaghan portrays convincingly.

Rose Keegan shines as fifth party guest Sue, quiet and polite despite some overly familiar probing questions she gives a hilarious performance as the single guest caught in the middle of two clearly unhappy couples.

Director Sarah Esdaile at times focuses less on the uncomfortable interactions and undercurrent of frustration & more on the humour of the piece. Traditionally tense moments are played a little more for laughs than they were in the famous Alison Steadman led version, this does dilute the emotional impact of the ending a little however with such superbly executed performances the is no doubt that this is an enormously entertaining piece.

Although Abigail’s Party is very firmly set in the 1970’s its genius lies in its hilarious and at times painfully honest study on human interaction, ambition and all the complexities that come with it. Littered with laugh out loud humour and moments to make your toes curl Abigail’s Party is wonderfully entertaining theatre with themes as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, the most eventful party you’ll ever be invited to.

Abigail’s Party is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

Fat Friends the Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s clear from the moment the curtain raises revealing a row of lycra clad bottoms that writer Kay Mellor’s intention is to deliver belly laughs and plenty of them.

Based loosely on Mellor’s hugely successful TV series which ran from 2000-2005 the show tells the story of lovable Leeds lass Kelly (Jodie Prenger) who despite being a size 20 buys a size 16 wedding dress which she WILL slim into by the time she walks up the aisle to marry nice but dim fiancé Kevin (Andrew Flintoff). An unexpected moment on live TV leaves Kelly committed to a challenge in which shady slimming guru Julia Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton) guarantees the wedding of her dreams if she completes her weight loss challenge whatever the consequences.

Prenger is perfectly cast as lead Kelly, incredibly likeable and entirely believable she brings great warmth and humour to the role portraying the perfect Yorkshire lass who just wants her happy ending. Her comedic timing is impeccable, her voice rich and pure as she puts her heart and soul into Kelly, ensuring the audience fall in love completely with this loveable lass.

Andrew Flintoff’s stage debut is impressive, receiving a roar of approval upon taking the stage he rises to the occasion as hapless Kevin desperate for fiancé Kelly to realise he loves her just the way she is.

Composer Nick Lloyd Webber’s score is uplifting and light, gelling perfectly with Mellor’s witty lyrics and offering some really memorable moments in the show, the ode to Chocolate being a particular stand out moment leaving many an audience member wishing they’d worn their waterproof mascara as tears of laughter roll down smiling faces.

Running alongside the central storyline are several other subplots which add to the depth of the piece and offer their own laugh out loud as well as tender moments too. Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell charm the audience entirely as Lauren and Paul with their ‘will they won’t they’ dilemma, Lauren being a Jewish Zumba instructor/wedding dress owner and salsa king Paul, a Vicar who can swivel his hips with more gusto than Ricky Martin.

The script is entirely relatable for anyone who has ever been on a diet (and let’s face it that pretty much covers us all). The scenes at the slimming class bring nods of familiarity and whispers of recognition from the audience as weigh-in cards are presented and slimmers de-robe before stepping onto the scales of doom.

The ensemble cast work together wonderfully creating a warm and family like atmosphere. It’s clear from the writing that Kay Mellor has an enormous amount of love for these characters, they are rich and relatable, the dialogue sharp and incredibly witty. Moving from ‘you need to be slim to be happy’ to ‘love who you are’ the message is predictable but nonetheless hugely enjoyable and entirely heart-warming.

Enormously entertaining, chock-full of laughs yet touching and tender, Fat Friends the Musical is a full-fat feast of tip-top fun!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 24th March tickets available here.

Shirley Valentine

Shirley

It’s an incredible 30 years since playwright Willy Russel introduced the world to Shirley Valentine and what better way to celebrate than to bring her out of the kitchen for an anniversary tour.

The play which has travelled the world winning a string of awards as well as being made into a film starring Pauline Collins which earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award nominations is as iconic as the Liver Birds. 40 something Shirley is trapped, drowning in a life which has lost all its spark, where the most important job she has is getting her husband’s tea on the table and her best conversations are with the kitchen wall. Downtrodden and deflated Shirley is tired with what life has become until one day out of the blue she’s offered the opportunity to inject some adventure, in the form of 2 weeks in Greece with her single pal Jane.

Shirley 3

Taking on the role of Shirley in this one woman piece, is Jodie Prenger, she finds the warmth and humour within as she delivers a heart-warming and gratifying performance. Possessing all the grit, determination, humour and vulnerability of the Shirley we all know and love as well as ramping up the humour with her skilful and entertaining depiction of the various characters which inhibit Shirley’s world. She glides with ease from one character to the next, breathing fresh life into the pages of Russel’s much loved work. Prenger is a force to be reckoned with, commanding the full attention of a packed out Lowry theatre, she delivers a wholly believable and deeply touching performance, audience laughter is closely followed by thoughtful reflection as Prenger finds the true heart of Shirley as her desperation for more becomes painfully clear.

Shirley 1

Russel’s familiar themes of loneliness and inequality are just as relevant today as they were when he originally penned Shirley. His writing is sharp and poignant, offering humour, depth and a fine understanding of the way many women see the world. Director Glen Walford makes great use of the material allowing Prenger to take this piece and really make it shine. Designer Amy Yardley’s kitchen set in Act I is impressive, allowing Shirley to cook up her chips and egg without missing a beat of the mighty monologue she delivers.

This is a fun, feel-good and thought-provoking production which like Shirley really gains momentum when our heroine chases her dream and starts to really live. A wonderful revival, which will make audiences fall in love with Shirley all over again.

On at The Lowry until Saturday tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/shirley-valentine

Shirley Valentine 2017 tour

sv

In celebration of Shirley Valentine’s 30th Anniversary, Willy Russell’s heart-warming comedy will embark on a UK tour in 2017, arriving at The Lowry on Monday 19th until Saturday 24th June, starring fans favourite, actress Jodie Prenger as our Shirley.

Undoubtedly one of the UK’s most successful playwrights, Russell’s award-winning work including Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out and Shirley Valentine has been performed all over the world. Talking about the new tour Russell says; “It’s now thirty years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award Nominations.”

sv1

Talking about the reasons for deciding to take Shirley on tour now on her 30th anniversary, Russell explained, “The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now! When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?”

No stranger to the theatre having appeared in numerous West End productions, UK tours as well as being a regular on our TV screens and radios, Prenger will no doubt relish the challenge of bringing to life such a beloved and treasured character, warm, witty and at times achingly vulnerable, Jodie is the perfect choice for the role.

The tour will be directed by Glen Walford who directed the original production and produced by Adam Spiegel Productions (Motown, The Last Tango, The Producers, Dance ‘Til Dawn, Midnight Tango, Love Me Tender, The Mousetrap on Tour). Tickets are on sale now via the link below

http://www.thelowry.com/event/shirley-valentine