If the audience were in any doubt as to the time period Abigail’s Party is set in, there wouldn’t be any once the curtains had been raised. The stage is transformed into an intricately furnished living room. There is orange and yellow patterned wallpaper on the wall, glass doors lead off into the kitchen, there is a fully stocked drinks cabinet and a record player complete with a collection of records. Much credit is due to the set designer, Howard Harrison, in creating this apparition of the past.
Beverly and Lawrence – played by former Eastenders star Hannah Waterman, and Martin Marquez – are hosting a party to meet their new neighbours Angela and Tony (Katie Lightfoot and Samuel James). The final guest is another of their neighbours, Susan (Emily Raymond), a divorcee whose wild teenage daughter is throwing a party in the house over the road.
All starts off normally. Lawrence is late home from work but he has to leave again to get the keys to a property which he is showing people around early the next morning. Beverly sighs and rolls her eyes at his lack of commitment to the party. Angela and Tony arrive and are plied with cheese and pineapple and gin. A jittery Susan enters, worried about the shenanigans going on across the road, which is not helped by the other guest remembering all the wild things that they did when they were teenagers and their parents were away.
As the evening winds on Beverly plies the guest with more and more alcohol and the smart suburban couples start to let themselves go. Like a loose thread being pulled, the relationships start to unravel: Beverly and Laurence argue, Susan, who is drinking on an empty stomach, becomes terribly drunk and Tony and Beverly flirt increasingly outrageously as the evening goes on. All the while Abigail’s wild party can be heard from across the road.
The play is at its best and most excruciating in the moments of silent tension. The comedy also comes from the perfectly timed reactions to the ever increasing combination of aggression and seduction. Mike Leigh’s script examines the differences between the generations as the two parties take place, one on stage and one off. The aspirations and shortcomings of the characters are laid bare with comic and engaging precision.
- Abigail’s Party is showing at the Wyvern Theatre until 1st June