Abigail’s Party is Mike Leigh’s infamous 1977 suburban sitcom which investigates the aspirational working class in a time of political and societal change. This satirical play is set in a brilliantly nostalgic 70s living room, the backdrop for social climber Beverly’s neighbourhood gathering. She’s brought together an eclectic mix of individuals for an excruciatingly awkward cocktail party which soon turns sour after relentless refills and petty competitiveness get all too much. With the booze flowing, its not long until cracks begin to show, exposing secrets and building tensions which could have disastrous consequences.
The entirety of this play takes place in Beverly’s living room, an eclectic mix of 70s interior design favourites. A record player takes centre stage accompanied by a fibre light, pine panelling and one of those glass bowl gardens I remember seeing at my Granny’s. Every inch of Janet Bird’s gorgeous time-capsule set arouses nostalgia. A number of fantastically hideous outfit combinations finish off the look and set the scene perfectly for this outlandish party to begin.
Jodie Prenger leads the way as overbearing and controlling host Beverly, always keen to impress. Waltzing across the stage in her fabulous paisley gown sticking her nose and opinion into everyones business, Prenger keeps the play moving seamlessly and is a definite audience favourite. Vicky Binns is wonderfully cast as naive and overexcited newlywed Angela and Rose Keegan is fantastically funny as the softly spoken, reserved Sue. Daniel Casey and Callum Callaghan have great comedic input whilst building tensions and telling the ‘untold’ story exceptionally well.
Each cast member does an impeccable job of portraying a facade of happiness whilst subtly demonstrating fear, pain and tension as the play progresses. Each character becomes increasingly complex as personalities and relationships are explored solely through interesting conversation and stellar acting. The gradual unveiling of each character makes the play incredibly gripping.
With plenty of hilarious moments filling the space with laughter though, the more serious notes sometimes fell a little flat. A few times I didn’t know whether I was supposed to laugh or cry and the ending feels all too abrupt and a little incomplete.
Overall though, Abigail’s Party is a brilliantly engaging and nostalgic snapshot of 70s life which keeps the audience laughing whilst hitting on some uncomfortably serious undertones. Beneath the 70s facade, this play remains as relevant now as it always was.
Catch Abigail’s Party at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton until Saturday 9th March before it continues on its UK Tour.
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*Production Images by Manuel Harlan