Abigail's Party ★★★★★ Park Theatre | Nov 10 - Dec 4, 2021


Mike Leigh's 1977 comedy of manners, Abigail's Party, is an acerbic attack on snobbery in the suburbs. This tremendous revival, superbly directed by Vivienne Garnett, gets everything right: design, casting and performances. Beth Colley's set is a wonderful evocation of what was then considered good furnishing taste, and it is matched by some excellent performances. While Abigail's actual party is taking place next door, social battle lines are being drawn up at a small soirée hosted by Beverly, brilliantly played by Kellie Shirley, and her husband Laurence, the excellent Ryan Early. The former tries very hard to be a successful hostess and the latter stresses about virtually everything. Their guests, the handsome, monosyllabic bully, Tony (Matt Di Angelo), his rather drab wife, nurse Angela (Emma Noakes) and Abigail's middle class mother, Susan (Barbara D'Alterio), are all played quite faultlessly. This is a glorious evening of excruciating social and marital hostilities as Beverly tries too hard, pushing her guests to drink, smoke, or eat while Laurence gives an object lesson in 'dad dancing.' The awkward scene where everyone does finally dance is played to perfection. When Beverly makes a full frontal, and not-unrequited, assault on Tony, the neediness and sadness of the characters is palpable. While the play has been seen as a rather cruel and disdainful look at suburban lives, where a liking for olives is used as an indicator of good taste, Leigh's rapier sharp observation is always accompanied by an empathy for his characters and their vulnerabilities. This revival might leave you wanting to settle down with some Demis Roussos in the background and one of those little cheesy-pineapple hedgehog things because Abigail's Party is quite marvelous. This is a production that deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Christian Davies.

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