REVIEW: Abigail’s Party, New Victoria Theatre

Brimming with simmering tension, Sarah Esdaile’s production perfectly captures the changing relationships between characters.

(c)Manuel Harlan.

Intense and painfully funny, Mike Leigh’s classic comedy is given a new lease of life in this engaging and lively production directed by Sarah Esdaile that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged and entertained from start to finish.

Taking place over the course of an evening, Beverly has invited her new neighbours Angela and Tony as well as long-term neighbour Sue around to her and her husband Laurence’s house for drinks. But as the evening goes on tensions between characters are exposed through jealousy, prejudice and insecurities that makes for intense viewing.

While initially it takes a while for Esdaile’s production to settle down, in the way in which it seems to linger on particular moments that aren’t of real significance in the way in which the tensions of the evening unfold. But what it does do particularly well is emphasise the tensions between Beverly, Laurence, Angela and Tony from the little things – such as comparing the size of their houses or boasting about their jobs. It is all very subtly but elegantly done to keep the audience thoroughly engaged with what is happening and highlighting just how insecure all of the characters are in their own ways.

Taking place on Janet Bird’s wonderfully retro set design of Beverly’s house (yes the party we see is not actually Abigail’s which takes place out of sight), the play convincingly reveals just how even neutral topics can lead to misunderstandings and a sense of competitiveness. There is plenty of feistiness and attitude delivered by all characters that becomes increasingly sharper as little bursts of frustration bubble over – convincingly portrayed by all of the cast.

Jodie Prenger as the loud-mouthed, flirtatious but somehow still likeable Beverly steals the show as she elegantly portrays a woman who covers her vulnerability with her outrageous approach. Everything from her increasingly brazen flirty behaviour towards Tony (even dancing extremely close to him at one point) to the way she speaks to Laurence highlights her isolation from her consistently absent husband.

Elsewhere, Calum Callaghan as the abrupt and insecure Tony does well to convey a number of emotions in few words and mannerisms that ensures the audience is aware of him. Vicky Binns as Angie his wife is wonderful support conveying her desperate need to keep moving forward and get settled – despite her husband’s reservations. Daniel Casey is utterly convincing as the exhausted and consistently stressed Laurence, desperate to achieve bigger and better things and Rose Keegan is absolutely delightful as Sue whose increasing uncomfortableness at how the others are behaving generates sympathy from the audience.

With themes that are still relevant today ( such as the increasing pressure to keep up with everyone else in terms of success) – this painfully funny play and production is sharply executed and well worth catching for the five brilliant performances.

By Emma Clarendon

Abigail’s Party continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until the 2nd March before continuing to tour.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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