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.