FOLLOWING a triumphant season in the West End, a new production of Mike Leigh’s classic 1970s comedy of manners, Abigail’s Party stops off at The King’s Theatre this week, starring ex-EastEnder Hannah Waterman as the monstrous Beverley.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street, until Saturday, 7.30pm (2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-221 2280
Set in English suburbia in the mid-1970s, Abigail’s Party is a comedy-satire playing on the aspirations and tastes of the then newly emerging middle class.
Beverley and estate agent husband Laurence invite their new neighbours Angela and Tony over one evening for drinks, as well as divorced neighbour Sue, who is twitchy because her 15-year-old daughter Abigail is hosting a party back at their house. A ruthlessly accurate and painfully funny observation of the pretensions of suburbia, it is also deeply insightful of human nature.
The party starts off stiffly and politely, but as Beverley plies the guests with cigarettes, alcohol and Demis Roussos the colourful personalities of the group gradually begin to emerge, exposing a worrying host of insecurities, prejudices, fears, obsessions and a petty class competitiveness uniquely common to the age.
Since its debut on the London stage in 1977, Abigail’s Party has become one of the most popular plays ever written - its central character Beverley, achieving cult status thanks to Alison Steadman’s seminal performance.
“I last saw it at school 26 years ago and did not revisit it during rehearsal as I wanted to avoid picking up Alison Steadman’s physical, decisions, and rhythms. I will certainly watch it again once we’ve done,” says Waterman, who observes that Beverley is “great fun to play.”
About approaching such an iconic role, Waterman is pragmatic. “I take the words off the script, and in this case - be brave.
“Beverley is aspirational and very dominant. I also think she’s very lonely and in a desperately unhappy marriage. By the end, she’s lost everything.
“As I play her more, I have more empathy for her, and feel her vulnerability more.”
Although a period piece, Waterman believes audiences still relate to the universal situations it focuses on.
“There is a beautiful truthfulness in the writing that, even when the characters are saying something mundane, so much more is being said.
“Essentially the piece is about relationships - which is what makes it timeless, and also I think we all recognise these people.
“Beverley is a gift of a part - I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the role.”