Theatre Review: Abigail’s Party at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Abigail’s Party is an iconic piece of not just theatre, but history. Everyone who has seen the television play starring Alison Steadman as Beverly will remember it; it – and Beverly herself – are hard to forget.
So what was this production going to be like? Was it going to stay true to the play and the characters we all love (or at least have a grudging liking for), or was it going to be something entirely different?
The good news – at least, it was for me – is that this production is as close to the original as it could get. The characters, the set, the awkwardness, the realness… they’re all there, and it is a joy to experience it ‘in the flesh’.
The set is the first thing we see, and it is fantastic (as Beverly herself would say). All browns and oranges, a shag pile rug over wooden flooring (no fitted carpets here, although the neighbours have them), a spider plant, and of course the cocktail cabinet that dominates the room, pulling us in. It’s inevitable that anyone who enters will be offered a drink – they have everything – and then ‘just a little top up’ until everything or everyone is exhausted. And then there is the cheese and pineapple on sticks. If there was ever any doubt as to which decade this play is set in, this says 1970s if nothing else.
The play centres around Beverly and Laurence – this is their living room – who are played wonderfully by Jodie Prenger and Daniel Casey. They are hosting a get together for their new neighbours across the street (excitable Angela, played by Vicky Binns, who tries to emulate Beverly as much as possible, but doesn’t quite manage it, and strong, silent Tony, played by Calum Callaghan, who has a seething temper bubbling away beneath his flairs and shaggy hair, but who, in the end, is lost without his wife) and for Sue, played by Rose Keegan, a woman who has lived there for longer than anyone else, whose daughter, Abigail, is having a party and who wants her mum out of the way.
And therein lies the premise. It’s simple but oh so effective. Five people connected only by the proximity of their houses, sitting awkwardly in a chintzy suburban living room eating cheese and pineapple, drinking an astonishing amount of gin (and light ale and Barcardi) and talking about nothing in particular.
It’s the clever way that the tension, unnoticed at the beginning, becomes much more obvious as the play goes on that offers a sense of foreboding, even though what is happening on stage is comical, in a cringing kind of way. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been Beverly, trying to impress, we’ve all been Laurence, tired and not in the mood to entertain. We’ve all been Angela trying to connect with someone who intrigues us, and Tony who feels out of his depth, out of his class, defensive about everything. And Sue. Poor Sue. Not sure why she’s really there or what she is meant to be doing, desperate to make sure her home and child are safe, but not wanting to cause any fuss – we’ve definitely all felt like that.
And the tension keeps growing along with the empty bottles and the volume of the music from the party. Along with Beverly’s jibes and sneers at Laurence’s expense, causing him to lash out at his neighbours because who else is there?
I loved this play. I have always loved this play, always found that it was both funny and sad, hilarious and heartbreaking. I wonder what will happen to them all once the party is over?
Abigail’s Party is a must see and it is playing at The Orchard Theatre until 6th April. Tickets are available here: https://orchardtheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-abigails-party-dartford-2019