After a sunny March afternoon, I made a trek across the border and over to the Norwich Theatre Royal on World Theatre Day for the 40th anniversary production of Mike Leigh’s classic play, Abigail’s Party.
The story is set in 1977, when Beverly (Amanda Abbington) sets us up for the worst party ever… beginning the night by putting Donna Summer on the turntable and stacking a plate with little cheesy-pineapples whilst slow-dancing. A short while later, her estate agent husband Laurence (Ben Caplan) returns home from work and their guests arrive; the new neighbours, Tony (Ciaran Owens) and Ange (Charlotte Mills), and nervous divorcee Sue (Rose Keegan), who is on edge about the party her teenage daughter Abigail is throwing up the road. Despite the plays title, this is very much focused on Beverly’s party, as she quickly plies her guests with alcohol, cigarettes and Demis Roussos; but the night soon descends into one of chaos, comedy, drama and tragedy…
For me I found it interesting that in it’s initial premiere, this play was set in real time. However, this is now a 40th anniversary production that looks back on the quirky characters, popular music, garish decor and simplistic party foods of the 70s.
Initially the play felt a bit of a slow burner, with repetitive dialogue and somewhat dated; however as the evening at Beverly’s unfolded I found myself getting drawn into the story – as crazy as it was! It was actually a rather farcical story, yet it gives a great look into the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s and is definitely filled with chaos and comedy, with a few unexpected twists.
The cast is held together by a small cast of five, which is led by Amanda Abbington, who is probably best-known for her roles in Sherlock, Mr Selfridge and Cuffs. A true talent, as she plays Beverly with ease; turning on her best charms and dancing her way through most of the evening. The character is a lovable rogue, who’s very sure of herself with her assertiveness and humour. The rest of the cast and characters were of equal brilliance, with their spot-on comic timing and faultless performances.
The set was brilliant, initially showcasing when you walked into the theatre as a window that looked into a living room, though this lifted like a curtain and set you up for the evening at Beverly’s and Laurence’s – in their stereotypical 70s house. Picture fibre optic lights, patterned curtains, a leather sofa, a drinks cabinet, a turntable and records and a soda stream. Although only set in one location, it really made you feel part of the party.
Overall, the story is pretty much the drinks party from hell… that said, while it may be a little dated and not appeal to everyone’s tastes, there’s no denying that this production is well-produced and brilliantly cast, and the audience seemed to be in awe – many of whom remember it first time around, and it surely makes for a fun evening out if you wish to forget about the harsh realities of your own life, and take a big dose of laughter!
Abigail’s Party runs at the Norwich Theatre Royal until the 1st April. For more information or to book visit theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk. The show continues it’s UK tour through to the end of April, including a stop at Cambridge Arts Theatre (www.cambridgeartstheatre.com).