Mike Leigh’s iconic play, Abigail’s Party has been wowing audiences since it made its theatre debut in 1977. As the audience take their seats in Perth Theatre to watch London Classic Theatre’s take on the production, one must wonder if this play, which was so current and fiercely funny in its day, can still appeal to modern-day audiences.
In her now ultra-retro living room, Beverly prepares for the arrival of her and her husband Laurence’s guests – neighbours: Angela, Tony and Susan. As the record player spins 70s classics, Beverly, played by the wickedly funny Rebecca Birch, carefully arranges pineapple laden cocktail sticks between dances and large sips of gin. Immediately, we know who this woman is. She’s the queen bee and we’re lucky to be invited into her hive.
As the night wears on, and far too many drinks are consumed, we see Beverly reveal her sting through a number of hilariously telling conversations. Birch really embodies this role physically. Every movement – from the tilt of her head to her vivacious laugh is pitch perfect, making for a magnetic and engaging performance.
In fact, every cast member shines in this stellar production, delivering each line of Leigh’s whip smart script to perfection. Alice De-Warrenne brings real warmth to the production and plenty of laughs with her slapstick portrayal of Angela. George Readshaw has real presence on stage as Tony, a man of few words, using barbed looks and passive aggressive body language to show his feelings.
The sixth character in this play is Beverly and Laurence’s incredible 70s home, designed by Bek Palmer. The living room feels plush and spacious at the beginning of the drama, but as the tension mounts the brown and beige interior becomes claustrophobic, adding to the oppressive atmosphere on stage.
By the midway point, you do feel a slight disconnect between our modern lives and the world of Abigail’s Party. But as the partygoers unravel on Beverly’s chic shag rug, you realise, that our lives aren’t really that different half a century on. We’re still trying to impress our contemporaries – just in different ways today. Perhaps we too should heed the play’s warning. After all, keeping up with the Joneses only ever leads to trouble.