Review: Abigail’s Party at Norwich Theatre Royal

I went to the drinks party from hell last night – and I loved it!
I will never forget my parents’ laughter at Abigail’s Party. I have to admit I wasn’t even born when it was first aired on the television in 1977, but at some point in my teens I recall watching it and, not surprisingly, not really getting it. However, the obvious pleasure my parents took from it was enough to make me re-visit it in adulthood, when I finally got it!
So when I heard the play was coming to Norwich Theatre Royal, and with Amanda Abbington playing the vulgar Beverly no less, I was straight on the phone to my dad.
Abigail’s Party was devised and directed by Mike Leigh and opened at Hampstead Theatre in April 1977 before being recorded and aired by the BBC in November of the same year, bringing it to a huge audience. And if the sell-out first night at Norwich Theatre Royal is anything to go by, 40 years on its popularity is enduring.
A satire on the new middle class of the 1970s, the play sees housewife Beverly and her estate agent husband Laurence hosting a drinks party at their suburban Essex home for new neighbours, Angela and Tony. Also invited is fellow neighbour and divorcee Susan, whose 15-year-old daughter Abigail is having her first party a few doors away.
As Beverly plies her guests with alcohol, cigarettes and cheese and pineapple on sticks, the party starts to spiral out of control. The well-mannered Susan is forced to listen to speculations about what antics might be taking place at her daughter’s party, while also being tactlessly questioned over her failed marriage. Ang, as Beverly inevitably calls her, is in awe of her neighbour’s home – complete with fibre-optic light, shag-pile rug and pull-down drinks cabinet – and will do and say anything to impress her new friend.
Beverly, meanwhile, shamelessly flirts with the monosyllabic Tony while chastising her husband at every opportunity. As the nights wears on, Laurence gets increasingly angry at his wife’s inappropriate behaviour and lack of culture and ultimately loses his temper with disastrous consequences.
Amanda Abbington had a big challenge to step into the shoes (or should I say platforms) of Alison Steadman in the iconic role of Beverly, but she was amazing! I was sold on the performance from the moment she put Donna Summer on the turntable and lit her first cigarette!
There’s still time to be a guest at Beverly’s party. The play runs until April 1 at Norwich Theatre Royal. Call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.

The cast of Abigail’s Party.

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