Review: Abigail’s Party, King’s Theatre

Hannah Waterman and Samuel James. Picture: Nobby Clark
Hannah Waterman and Samuel James. Picture: Nobby Clark
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Thirty- six years on and the middle class snobbery that makes Abigail’s Party the cult classic it is still clings like cheap perfume.

Abigail’s Party

King’s Theatre

* * * *

The Internet Movie Database is keen to note that, just like Laurence’s suppression of Beverly’s “erotic” picture in the play, the story’s opening song track was changed in the BBC film production because it was just too racy.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia righteously tells us that Beverly’s “naive” act of putting a bottle of Beaujolais in the fridge is, indeed, correct for Beaujolais Nouveau. Even the theatrical programme is at pains to mention that creator Mike Leigh spent hours debating the number of “e”s that should be in Beverly’s name. Phew, plus ça change, as Sue would say and Beverly would no doubt 

So it seems that Abigail’s Party has just as much relevance in this brave new millenium as it did in the last. Just as fresh, cringeworthy and funny as it was in the 70s, it’s only the decor and frequent references to status symbols of the time that date the production. It’s a wonder they haven’t reimagined the play with Katie Price, the Beckhams and Kirsty Allsop, although, sitcom Gavin and Stacey certainly covers much the same territory – with the added bonus of Alison Steadman faking vegetarianism for the sake of social grace.

A meditative riff on the theme of middle class aspiration, the night unfolds uneasily as a group of neighbours congregate for drinks while teenager Abigail’s party rages next door.

Playing hostess with the mostest Beverly is Hannah Waterman, who settles comfortably into her role, reprising the Essex whine and saucy hair flick that Alison Steadman first brought to the part. Martin Marquez juxtaposes her dizzy, drunk neatly in his turn as stuffy husband Laurence, as they attempt to keep the lid on their disintegrating relationship. Katie Lightfoot’s Angela is beautifully awkward as she blithely ignores her husband’s flirtation and Samuel James’ Tony sits just on the right side of nonchalant lothario, while Emily Raymond’s shy, uncomfortable Sue is drawn perfectly. Yet for all the assuredness of the production, one can’t help but feel the actors hold back from fully exploring the true horror of the situation, particularly Waterman who certainly has the ability to stretch herself and the character into new territory.

• Run ends March 2