Abigail’s Party at Theatre Royal Bath

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Posted on 7th March 2017

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh

Theatre Royal Bath 

Until March 11 

Mike Leigh’s comedy is raw, excruciating, and real. And like all the best comedies, coloured by tragedy.  Abigail’s Party will resonate with audience members who were around in the late Seventies and be a social history lesson for younger watchers. 

This 40th anniversary production will delight Leigh fans and thoroughly entertain those too young to have caught its initial airings. 

Although to be fair, it’s a play that has never been out of circulation. While its setting is fixed in date it will never be dated because of the vibrancy of its characters and what it says, very simply, about human nature. 

Amanda Abbington leads a superb cast, as the awesomely awful Beverly, the hostess from hell. We’ve all met people with a little bit of the Beverly in them, the hostess who refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer, the social bully who gives guests unasked for advice about  diet, fashion sense, job aspirations, trampling over blatant sensitivities with breathtaking callousness.

Ms Abbington has mastered the body language and the perfect condescending tone of a woman who convinces herself she is irresistible and always right. But she also hints at an underlying bleakness in a superficial life, something she is unable to articulate, although she never stops talking.

Ben Caplan earns all the sympathy as Beverly’s long suffering and overworked estate agent husband Laurence. He portrays a man caged by his wife’s social pretensions. We watch him desperately try to establish contact with the most vulnerable of the party guests on a plane slightly above Beverly’s obsessions with ‘having a good time’ and Demis Roussos.

Angela the cheerful and lumpish new neighbour has an empathetic interpreter in Charlotte Mills, seemingly unaware that Beverly is unashamedly trying to seduce her handsome husband Tony, played in sullen monosyllables by Ciaran Owens. His embarrassment is palpable as the women share more and more intimate facts of their lives, and his.

The fifth party-goer is Susan, mother of the eponymous Abigail, whose teenage party Susan is avoiding by being at Beverly’s. This was a superbly modulated performance by Rose Keegan as a quiet, shy woman totally out of her comfort zone with her brash hostess. 

This is a classic interpretation of a classic drama. Catch it if you can.

Jo Bayne


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