ACT Theatre Reviews 2021-2022

ABIGAIL’S PARTY by Mike Leigh Directed by Barbara Harris Altrincham Little Theatre Abigail’s Party is a play for stage and television, devised and directed in 1977 by Mike Leigh. It is a suburban comedy of manners and a look at the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. In this production there were several nods to this epoch of history that I remember. The props team and set designers did a superb job of establishing a time gone by: the large pattern wallpaper and plush furniture. A trim phone was very evident and which was something that I immediately remembered thinking that it was very sophisticated in the era. The giving out of nibbles, gin and tonic, and the emergence of cheese and pineapple canapés was evocative of the period but the thing that really transports one back in history is the music. The disco, and breathy sounds of Donna Summer and, of course, the exotic, tenor voice of Demis Roussos that transported the aspirational 1970s middle classes to holidays in the Greek and Spanish sun. Abigail’s party is actually the one that is happening next door to Beverley and Laurence. Beverley has invited neighbours Tony and Angela Cooper round for drink. She has also asked her divorced neighbour, Sue, to join them while her daughter gets the party next door swinging. Kathryn Fennell was super as Bev, who henpecks her husband, flirts with Tony, and gets drunk. This is where, in today’s term, a “no filters” approach to social etiquette emerges. Her barbed and sarcastic comments are liberally directed at most in the room, and she especially patronises Sue (Paula Keen) who spends the whole night worried about her daughter, and what she is getting up to. Stephen Moss established from the outset that Laurence was aspirational and a workaholic, providing a home and life style that his wife demanded. There was a nice change when he realised that he had a lot more in common with the retiring and somewhat shy Sue. John Westbrook and Sharon Copitch worked well as the married couple, Tony and Angela. John gave the impression that he really didn’t want to be there, and Sharon tried to be the most inoffensive person by agreeing to everything Bev suggested. Yet in their relationship there was an undercurrent of menace, especially toward the latter stages of the play, by some of the things that Tony says to his wife, and grabbing her wrist forcefully. I did find Sharon’s line delivery quite comical, as did most of the audience – almost blasé and without trying to be funny. I remember watching the televised play some time ago and feeling quite uncomfortable at times due to the long pauses after some comments. This production, directed by Barbara Harris, felt different. The dialogue was delivered at a speedier pace, and the pauses didn’t seem as pronounced, and so invited the audience to engage with the humour of the dialogue. I reflected after the production, if we, as an audience, change over time in our expectation of comedy and humour – maybe we are more accepting of a “no filters approach” in society and so things that would shock in the 1970s, maybe would not do so today.