The Play's The Thing Theatre Company presents Abigail’s Party - Theatre

Liam Tims as Tony and Dawn Murphy as Beverly. © Simon Raynor, 2015

Thanks largely in part to its highly successful televised appearance on ‘Play for Today’ in 1977, Abigail’s Party is a real stalwart of the British cultural canon. Even those who haven’t seen the play, or have merely glimpsed clips of the televised version, feel as if they are incredibly familiar with the world of Beverly’s front room and the events that occur there on the fateful night of young neighbour Abigail’s party.

As such, it is an incredible feat to pull off an interesting and nuanced production. Luckily, The Play’s The Thing have done just that. Director Rosemary Hill has managed to tug on the darker threads lurking in the text to provide us with a production that is enjoyable and wicked. Mike Leigh’s writing still zings after all these years and this entertaining comedy of manners is delightfully gloomy at times.

As always, mention has to made of regular The Play’s The Thing designer Kevin Jenkins. His perfectly constructed Seventies living and dining area – all geometric patterns, floral prints, and brown, brown, brown – is an utter delight. Set on an angle, you can tell the cast really enjoy romping through the set. There are some fun moments to be had with the staging here too; Beverly utilising the ill-placed sideboard and drinks cabinet every five minutes, Lawrence forcefully chewing on a sandwich alone at his 6-seater wooden dining table, Angela enviously rubbing the ‘beautiful’ brown leather sofa set.

Some very nice sensory touches were also used to great effect. Real cigarette and cigar smoke permeates the auditorium throughout, and Beverly’s cloying perfume spray help the audience to feel as awkwardly trapped in Beverly’s living room as the other characters do.

The ensemble cast work hard to keep us toe-curlingly embarrassed as the evening unfolds. There’s a great sexual tension between Dawn Murphy’s languid Beverly and Liam Tims’ stoic Tony. One of the most cringe-inducing parts of the production is where we are forced to watch the two 'dirty dancing' and indulging in some mutual bottom-groping, whilst Tony’s wife Angela (excellently played by Heather Johnson) gently fingers the optic light. Johnson really makes Angela her own and does a great job of delving slowly into drunkenness, before a crisis sends her soberly back into action.

Kerry Willison-Parry’s genteel Sue is both endearing and heart-breaking. Offered crisps, nuts, cheese and pineapple sticks, olives and endless drinks, she is burdened not only by snacks, but also her inability to say no and her insistence on good manners. Andy Watkins plays Lawrence with a fantastic creeping and burning rage, and it is dastardly good fun to watch his decline as the action unfolds. Perhaps slightly more could have been made of the development of some characters, but overall the ensemble was well-cast and skilled.

A thoroughly enjoyable night out, The Play’s The Thing have given us another solid professional production of an incredibly well-known, and well-loved, play.

Well, they do like to keep their guests happy…

(c) Carly Halse 2015

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