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Review: Abigail's Party at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford starring Jodie Prenger

By Paul Hooper

It is hard to believe it’s more than 40 years ago that playwright Mike Leigh introduced us to the cocktail vamp Beverly.

The Seventies were a time of flared jeans, lava lamps, Blue Nun wine, cheese and little onions on plastic sticks.

Soirees with neighbours were regarded as the height of suburban sophistication.

Abigail's Party stars Jodie Prenger (second left)
Abigail's Party stars Jodie Prenger (second left)

Then Mr Leigh shone an unflattering light on the fake camaraderie in Abigail’s Party and, those of us who saw ourselves in this brilliant play, all shuddered with embarrassment.

After watching the brilliant Alison Steadman’s take on the anti-heroine on TV have never been able to listen to the songs of Demis Rousssos without squirming.

And now Jodie Prenger as the 'hostess with the leastest' is just wonderful...sashaying onto the stage like she was on a catwalk.

Each time she speaks the name of her husband ...Laur...ence...it was like a stiletto in his spine and delivered with the skill of an accomplished assassin.

The play opens with the audience peering in from the outside at what appears to be just a happy cocktail party for neighbours.

Beverly and Laurence (Daniel Casey) have invited husband and wife Angela (Vicky Binns) and sulky husband Tony (Calum Callaghan) and Sue (Rose Keegan) around for cocktails and nibbles.

Set in suburbia, Mike Leigh begins to gently strip away the veneer of friendship before gin and bitter comments expose the gossamer-thin glue which often holds couples together.

There is a guilty pleasure in watching Beverly glide seamlessly from gloating bully, through appalling flirt and then to devastated wife. The diva doles out her opinions as easily as she does her drinks belittling her unctuous husband.

And the laughs are delivered as frequently as her alcoholic top-ups – it is truly great entertainment.

Daniel Casey’s Laurence is just as appalling, spraying his opinions on art and music in a retaliatory effort to humiliate his wife.

Rose Keegan captures the essence of the eponymous teenager’s anxious mum – kicked out of her home while her child is enjoying a raucous party.

And ex-Corrie star Vicky Binns is just great as the timid wife of a failed footballer but who comes into her own at the end.

Abigail’s Party is carefully directed by Sarah Esdaile who has ensured this 1970’s romp through suburbia to be as pertinent to audiences today as it was 40-odd years ago.

In retrospect, most Seventies’ comedies often feel jaded and out of touch – but this cast and Leigh’s wit and humour is as fresh as ever.

* The show is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday, April 6. To book tickets click here.

Read more: All the latest theatre news for Kent

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