REVIEW: ABIGAIL’S PARTY (Royal & Derngate) ★★★

As Brits, we love awkwardness. That is, we hate it. But in a comic situation, we love it. The Office, Extras, any play by David Hare… something about it makes us inwardly cringe when we watch it. And yet this type of comedy is extremely popular.

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh is often credited as being one of the first of these ‘awkward’ comedies. Beverley (Jodie Prenger) and her husband Laurence (Daniel Casey) are having a little soiree for their newest neighbours Ange and Tony (Vicky Binns and Calum Callaghan), but they’ve also invited Sue (Rose Keegan) because her daughter, Abigail, is having a party. As the night goes on and the group have more and more to drink, suburbia reveals its true nature.

Set in the late seventies, the gin and tonic is enjoying another one of its revivals. One of the ‘gags’ is the repetitive nature of the drink offering. Sue continues to say no but is ‘topped up’ with more and more gin until she throws up… her soft, naïve nature clashes with Beverley’s brash, sociable personality.

Acting is good, with believable chemistry between the cast members. Each feels very (un)comfortable in their role, embracing their character in tone and action. Some of the awkward silences could have been longer, as if the actors were rushing to break the tension. There wasn’t really enough time for the audience to start to feel really discomfited, and that let it down.

Janet Bird’s set is brilliant, full of the ‘delights’ of the seventies, including a fibre optic lamp, loud wallpaper and a three-piece suite. The colours are grotesque and epitomise the infamous decade. And anyone who doesn’t leave humming Demis Roussos clearly fell asleep in Act II.

While the concept of awkward social gatherings is still very relevant, a lot of the humour struggles to resonate in 2019. Those who enjoyed the classic film version will not be disappointed; the younger generation seeing it for the first time, may leave feeling underwhelmed.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes


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