Lisa Clatworthy takes a trip to the Arts Theatre for Abigail’s Party
If you’re familiar with Mike Leigh’s plays, you’ll already have booked tickets for Abigail’s Party. If you haven’t, we suggest you should. Not least because Amanda Abbington gives a stunning performance as Beverley, a role which many who remember the original staging of the play regard as belonging to Alison Steadman. In fact, all the performances are superb, and are matched by the splendid set.
I can’t describe the set without revealing too much, so just take it from me that it’s very clever, and very well designed. It is of course perfectly decked out with 1970s style props, from the record player to a lamp so admired by Angela. And equally pleasing are the costumes. Tony’s blue suit looks like it came from my dad’s 1970s wardrobe, while Susan is dressed in every shade of brown known to fashionistas of the era.
Fully embracing the genre of farce, Abigail’s Party is certainly not for those who want to enjoy an evening of lighthearted comedy. It’s close to the bone and cringeworthy at times – up there with the best, such as the more contemporary, Green Wing – and had the audience giggling and cringing in equal measure.
Music plays an important role, with husband and wife Laurence and Beverly fighting over control of the record player. And the choice of records emphasises the tensions and changing allegiances between the characters.
It’s fascinating to realise that 40 years on (the play was written in and is set in 1977), topics of conversation are still contemporary – house prices, development and olives – you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. However, the casual racism and chauvinism jar (thankfully), and Angela and Beverley’s insensitivity towards Susan’s recent divorce demonstrate how it was still unusual.
Abigail’s Party is a slick play, with great performances, superb staging and disco dancing to delight at. Don’t miss it.
Abigail’s Party runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 15 April. Tickets from £23