Review: Abigail’s Party

The London Classic Theatre returned to Waterford, but to Garter Lane this time, with a glorious presentation of Mick Leigh’s famous 1978 hit, Abigail’s party. The original was justly famous for its relentless and comic savaging of social class structures through the chattering class vehicle of a dinner party with drinkies and nibbles rather than a sit down disembowelling of social values.

Remarkably the play has hardly aged any and the social targets are still there and the knowing laughter of a full house showed just how accurate the lampoon is. You had no bother accepting a house going for 21,000 as against 22,000 asking price, even in a nice area that was opening up to the wrong sort of upwardly mobile, self-improver. There was Laurence, the real estate agent, and his horrible monster of a social bully Bev, who invite new neighbours Ange (nurse Angela) and her computer operator Husband, Tone (or Tony) as well as longer time resident Sue, who’s daughter, the unseen Abigail, is having her first teenage party.

The set by Geraldine Bunzl was a marvel of accuracy with record players, Van Gogh reproductions, a Lowry print and a blue lava lamp (you can still get such lamps today on iwantoneofthose.com). The perfume was Estee Lauder and the music was Jose Feliciano, Elvis and Crazy Love. The nibbles were cheese ‘n’ pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks, nuts and crisps.

During the first half the various tensions and social mistakes pop out and by Act Two you could cut the sexual tension with a steak knife as the boozy Bev set about the slow-dance seduction of Tone with Ange a willing onlooker. The sense of expectation has drained away into petulance, bullying, disappointment and liberal doses of booze and fags.

This was an excellent cast and Alice Selwyn as Bev caught expertly the desperation and monstrous behaviour of a character likened to Hebda Gabler or Lady Macbeth. Amy Starling as Angela caught the mouse and the realist very well. Jamie Matthewman was a brooding Tony who was on sort at the party and another at home. Steve Dineen caught, so well, the complex social climber Laurence, who was also disappointed in his chosen mate, Bev. His edgy stressful character was well explored and Anna Kirke as Susan provided the clash of cultures and expectations.

Michael Cabot directed with style and feeling for the time and I hope he continues to include Waterford in his touring plans.

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