Since its original 1977 run at Hampstead Theatre, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party has seen a large number of revivals as well as a TV broadcast. The latest production, a collaboration between Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch (the production venue), Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg, is unique because it’s close to the play’s setting of a ‘theoretical Romford’.
The premise of the play is simple and familiar to many; Laurence and Beverly (Christopher Staines and Melanie Gutteridge) of 13 Richmond Road are hosting an evening drinks do and have invited a young couple, Tony and Angela (Liam Bergin and Amy Downham), and their neighbour Sue (Susie Emmett) who has been kicked out of her house by her daughter (Abigail) who is throwing a party.
The play kicks off and it is immediately clear that despite only being married for three years, Laurence and Beverly are far from the happy couple. The cracks in their relationship continue to show throughout the evening as Laurence dismays at his wife’s lack of taste and Beverly in turn becomes frustrated with him. Despite this, Beverly does her best to ensure that the guests are having ‘fun’, though only the kind she wants them to have, often bullying them into drinking more and smoking, refusing to take no for an answer. Originally portrayed by Alison Steadman, Beverly is the centre point around whom the whole play revolves. As audience members, we get a glimpse into who she really is. Underneath the beauty products and cigarette smoke, we see a woman who is full of contradictions, unhappy and a little bit malicious. Although Gutteridge gives a commendable performance as Beverly, there are times when she falls a bit flat, particularly in the first half, though perhaps it was the nerves of an opening night performance and Alison Steadman’s large shoes. Staines, Bergin and Emmett all give strong performances, though it is Downham who stands out, really making the role of Angela her own.
Due to its universal themes of love, marriage and suburban life, the comedic examination of the lower middle class that is Abigail’s Party manages to remain as relevant today as it was in 1977. That’s not to say that the play doesn’t also serve as a trip down memory lane for older audience members; there are chuckles throughout the auditorium as references to Demis Rousoss, cheesy pineapple sticks and Ford Capris are made.
The opening of Douglas Rintoul’s production of Abigail’s Party marks the beginning of a new season of work at Queen’s Theatre and serves as an opportunity for the theatre to launch QNew, a fundraising initiative to raise money to update the theatre, which is now in its 65th year. The revival of Abigail’s Party is a great start to a new era for Queen’s Theatre, which clearly is an important fixture of Hornchurch; the sense of community was palpable and it was clear that the audience was a supportive and loving one.
Abigail’s Party is playing at the Queen’s Theatre until 22 September. For more information and tickets, click here.
Photo: Mark Sepple