Abigail's Party

Mike Leigh's comedic commentary on 1970s British middle class society.

May 17, 2007
@ OFS Studio, 15-20 May 2007
Beverly is one of the most extraordinary creations ever to have graced stage and screen. Alison Steadman and Mike Leigh’s collaborative skills gave birth to a veritable gorgon in a kaftan. The original BBC production looms large over this production – as it almost inevitably will. It is an icon of the 1970s.

Beth Williams gives a very impressive recreation of the role of Beverly. She captured the middle-class neuroses with skill. She is a talented character actress (I was impressed by her performance as Rita last year). I could have wished

 that she had brought a fresh approach to this role – but that is just my preference. She gives an excellent performance.

However I do feel that she was outshone by Cathy Thomas as Angela. Here is a performance which pays homage to Janine Duvistki in the original but adds new layers and new approaches which gives her portrayal a wonderful quality.

The rest of the cast (Jack Chetburn, David Workman and Lucy Jackson) each give nuanced performances which all come together under the assured direction of Chloe Masterson to create an excellent piece of student theatre.

There is always a dark edge in Mike Leigh’s work – this production doesn’t shy away from that. It is a play that makes you shudder in horror as well as causing fits of laughter.

A talented cast – an iconic play. Catch one of the final 3 performances.
The Old Gaol Company take no prisoners (ha!) in this rendering of Mike Leigh’s twisted suburban soiree. For the play's duration, the Unicorn - in Abingdon’s picturesque, ancient Abbey Buildings - is transformed into the gaudy 70s living room of ill-matched couple Beverley and Lawrence. The production does not disappoint.

Beverley is a woman desperate for some kind of 1970s middle-class propriety, one which she envisages involving putting pineapple on cocktail sticks, forcing uncomfortable guests to enjoy themselves and drinking copious amounts of Bombay Sapphire. Shaking her rather garishly-attired posterior seems another of her hobbies. In fact, the play begins with a good minute of this, as Beverly’s bottom is thrust out into an expectant audience. But Beverley isn’t all show; Jackie Wooster also captures her character’s tragic side. Tedium seems a common facet of Bev’s existence – she professes to get much of her entertainment from a rotating fibre optic light.

Wooster's Beverley teeters gaudily across the room to be proudly displayed to guests by class-conscious husband Lawrence - a convincing David Spencer - in a manner not unlike that of Van Gogh’s Chair. Spencer portrays Lawrence compellingly as the brow-beaten husband who spends half his time standing up to, half his time staring in disbelief at, his embarrassing wife. Through Lawrence, Spencer makes his audience experience the humiliation of a very public display of emotions.

Meanwhile, Linda Squire’s Sue perfectly captures the embarrassment of being at a gathering that no one wants to be at by throwing fearful glances at the dancing Beverly whilst snaffling snacks from cut-glass bowls. Julie Kedward’s authentic Angela comically spouts nonsense whilst nonchalantly raising suspicions of domestic abuse. Her husband Tony, sensitively played by Ian Wooster, is said to be ‘a bit nasty.’ Wooster expertly captures Tony’s repressed anger, which waits for an outlet other than a repetition of exasperated ‘yes’s to his eager wife.

Depression, divorce and death are explored to the tune of Beverly’s patronising whine. Even the 70’s orange and yellow wallpaper can’t plaster over the play’s bubbling sense of foreboding. Music is used effectively – the heartbeat thumping of next-door’s party echoes like a jungle drum over the character’s collapse into an angry, lustful, and crucially, ‘facade-free’ mess. Quite rightly, by the play’s conclusion, TOGC leaves the audience facing the dilemma of whether to laugh or cry.
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