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Witty comedy has stood the test of time

Katie Lightfoot, Hannah Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond
Katie Lightfoot, Hannah Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond

Abigail's Party

Marlowe Theatre

If you thought Mike Leigh’s play set at a 1977 suburbs drinks party would be out of date and irrelevant to our modern day lives, think again.

Mike Leigh’s production has been brought back to the stage by Lindsay Posner and a brilliant cast to show us that although, thankfully, décor and fashion do change, the themes of our lives do not.

Beverly is a materialistic middle class housewife living in the suburbs who is unhappy with almost all aspects of her life. The only things she seems to be happy with are the possessions around her and the feeling that she is the Jones whom everyone wishes to keep up with.

Having invited her neighbours to her “bigger than yours” house for a couple of drinks, the evening unfolds to reveal more than a few fractures in the host’s and guests’ “perfect” suburban lives.

Looking into these lives we see Beverly and her husband Laurence. (Martin Marque) whose marriage is based on nothing but money and misery, the newly wed couple Angela (Katie Lightfoot) and her husband, Tony (Samuel James), who are not quite the right class for the neighborhood and whose marriage, unrecognised by Angela, is already on the rocks and the repressed divorcee, Sue (Emily Raymond), whose daughter, Abigail, is having a party down the road.

Hannah Waterman in Abigail's Party
Hannah Waterman in Abigail's Party

As they are brought together for an uncomfortable evening of point scoring and endless gin and tonics, what could possibly go wrong?

With big shoes to fill, Hannah Waterman more than made the role of Beverly her own.

I am sure, having had 16 million viewers, many people remember Alison Steadman’s portrayal of the part, but very quickly you put this to the back of your mind as a new Beverly develops on stage.

She seamlessly manages to switch between playing the perfect hostess while making jibes and sexually mocking her husband with just a faint change of tone in her voice and controlling her guests’ every movement with pointed remarks.

Sauntering around the stage in a figure hugging green dress, Waterman’s ability to ensure there is no hint of irony in her statement that the candelabra is “real silver – plate” or she will “put the Beaujolais in the fridge keeps the audience chuckling.

Her not-so-subtle looks which say so much and vindictive comments; or advice as she calls it, said through gritted teeth and a smile bring a whole new dimension to this fantastic character. “D’you know what I mean?”

She and Samuel James should be mentioned for the most uncomfortable but oddly hilarious moment of the show.

Having already spent the evening trying to seduce him, mainly to the music of Demis Roussos, Beverly manages to get Tony to dance with her in the middle of the living room.

Fondling one another while the others make stilted conversation with each other before the realisation of what is going on in front of them occurs, made for great, if not quite awkward, entertainment.

All too easy to go over the top with any one of these roles, none of the supporting cast fell into this trap.

Lightfood’s browbeaten, robotic and slightly ditzy housewife, Jones’ boring, sexually repressed, and fed up computer analyst, Marquez’s, overworked and under-loved estate agent and Raymond’s crestfallen divorcee are all perfectly represented without being hyperbolic.

Volatile relationships, materialistic obsessions and busy working lives, are themes and subjects regularly portrayed in a number of modern programs and films such as Desperate Housewives, with its idyllic suburban street where everything on the outside seems like bliss but behind closed doors its falling apart.

In this witty comedy we get to see, in cringeworthy detail, behind those doors.

Abigail’s Party has easily stood the test of time.

A mention of curried Pilchards, Estee Laude’s Youth Dew, cheese and pineapple on sticks and orange wall paper make it clear that we are in the 70’s but this play is as relevant today as when it was originally shown on the BBC and this version of the production, quite simply should not be missed.

Rhiannon Lawson

  • Abigail’s Party is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury until Saturday, June 22. Performances are at 7.30pm, with 2.30pm shows on the Thursday and Saturday. Tickets £15. Call 01227 787787.
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