Writer: Mike Leigh
Director: Tom Attenborough
Reviewer: Megan Pearce
Beverly is an undersexed housewife dissatisfied with nearly every aspect of her life. She invites over her new neighbours for ‘a few’ drinks as well as Sue, whose 15-year-old daughter, Abigail, is throwing a party. The mixture of classes and lack of a good dinner ensures that chaos ensues. The play is set in the mid-seventies, where hideous ornaments and vile orange patterned walls were the height of fashion.
The original version of the performance was made famous in 1977 when aired on BBC gaining 16 million viewers. The performances in that particular version are outstanding and engrained within the nation with affection. The characters are big rôles of take on to overcome the stereotypes of previous actors’. Hannah Waterman, previously of Eastenders fame, takes on the rôle of Beverly and completely owns the character. Waterman puts her own spin on the wannabe middle class ‘Stepford’ wife. Her performance is brilliant, she nearly makes you forget about Alison Steadman’s portrayal of the rôle (nearly). Watch out for the way she says “yeah” – the amount of ways she manages to give that one small word a new meaning will make you shudder with a sub-text overload.
Samuel James plays the ever-boring Tony. Beverly sees Tony as the young stallion from next door and as a chance to escape for a moment from her boring life. The sexual tension between James and Waterman leaves you on the edge of your seat, and creates a humorous and stark contrast to the utterly mundane conversation emerging with the rest of the party.
By the second half, the atmosphere could be cut with a knife and even though the music is blaring from Abigail’s party – a party full of screaming drunk teenagers is looking like a more welcoming setting. The actor’s manage to convey this utterly awkward set up while giving the audience a sense of bathos, as Beverly insists on playing Demis Roussos for the hundredth time.
The drinks cabinet, although not credited, deserves a mention. It is the focal point for so much drama and its contents in the cause of all discovered problems. Waterman’s line learning must have been cut in half by simply learning “Can I get you a top up?” Being an actor in Abigail’s Party is sure fire way to get your eight glasses of water a day.
Mike Leigh’s writing completely draws you in to Beverly’s world of trying to be better than everyone else. The play may be over 30 years old but the plot and the comment on society is timeless. Actors can easily miss all the sub-text within Leigh’s texts, but this company has done the writer proud. An absolutely flawless production of this British classic nostalgia piece.