Abigail's Party

Mike Leigh
London Classic Theatre
Festival Theatre, Malvern

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Rebecca Birch (Beverly) Credit: Sheila Burnett
Alice De-Warrenne (Angela) Credit: Sheila Burnett
The cast Credit: Sheila Burnett
Rebecca Birch (Beverly) and George Readshaw (Tony) Credit: Sheila Burnett
Alice De-Warrenne (Angela), Tom Richardson (Laurence) and Rebecca Birch (Beverly) Credit: Sheila Burnett
George Readshaw (Tony) and Tom Richardson (Laurence) Credit: Sheila Burnett

It’s the drinks party from hell, with host Beverly on hand constantly to throw alcohol fuel onto the fire to keep the flames burning.

It’s not actually Abigail’s do. She never appears because the 15-year-old’s bash is over the road, so her mother Susan has been invited over to get away from it by Beverly and Laurence, together with new neighbours Angela and Tony. But the evening steadily degenerates from banality to boozy bitterness and recrimination.

The play seems to me not so much a black comedy as a bitter one, a sneer at Beverly in particular for her lower-middle-class pretensions, mass-market taste and dodgy pronunciation. It’s familiar territory for Alan Ayckbourn, but Mike Leigh’s 1977 drama lacks that playwright’s empathy with the human condition, and in this production left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable.

Rebecca Birch gives a storming performance as the sex-starved vamp Beverly, flaunting her red-robed bits at George Readshaw’s monosyllabic Tony after learning he was once a professional footballer.

She and Alice De-Warrenne as a soft-as-a-tea-cosy Angela assume accents as broad as the Thames Estuary, with Birch often at full flood. Nineteen weeks into the company’s tour, with 15 still to go, I trust she packed plenty of throat lozenges.

Estate agent husband Laurence, played by Tom Richardson, is something of a lost soul, grasping at something more elevated, however uncertainly, than his wife’s sometimes trashy preferences.

The fifth member of the party, Susan, played immaculately by Jo Castleton, is the ex-wife of an architect. Her role is to sit on the periphery of this embarrassing exhibition like a frozen mackerel.

The play’s UK tour continues until 7 October at Llandudno, Bath, Hayes, Crewe, Greenwich, Portsmouth, Southend, Harpenden, Barnstaple, Taunton, Swindon, North Finchley, Basingstoke, Dundee and Ipswich.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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