REVIEW: Abigail’s Party, Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Cheese and pineapple sticks and fibre-optic lights may have fallen out of favour nowadays.
But tensions and aspirations in lower middle class suburbia explored in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party still resonate today.
Set in the 1970s, Beverly and Laurence hold a drinks party for their new neighbours, Angela and Tony, along with another neighbour, Susan, who has been kicked out of her home by her 15-year-old daughter Abigail who is entertaining her own friends.
Blackpool actress Jodie Prenger has big shoes to fill as the irrepressible Beverly, originally played by Alison Steadman more than 40 years ago.
But our homegrown star more than rises to the occasion, and has the audience hanging off her every Essex word as she haughtily glides around the stage.
Hell-bent on impressing her neighbours and proving she’s ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, she’s a no-nonsense hostess who is determined to make sure her guests enjoy themselves. Even if that means plying them with tipple after tipple, forcing cigarettes on Ange and Tone – despite them having recently given up – and even making unapologetic passes at Tone (‘He looks a lot bigger up close doesn’t he Ange eh?’).
But Beverly’s monstrous exterior only masks her vulnerability, seen most noticeably in her unfulfilled marriage to Laurence, played superbly by Daniel Casey.
Vicky Binns is hilarious as naive Ange, Rose Keegan has wonderful inflection in her voice as reserved Sue and Calum Callaghan effectively recreates Tony’s disdain for his current situation.
References to Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew, Pomagne, and Demis Roussos receive nostalgic nods and chuckles from the audience while Janet Bird’s 1970s wood-panelled living room set is sublime.
Directed by Sarah Esdaile, the play mixes humour, pain and pathos in equal measure.
You find yourself laughing when you really know you shouldn’t; watching Beverly flick ash and gulp brandy as her husband lies dying just wouldn’t be funny in any other situation.
While certain references just don’t wash nowadays – women being told they can’t drive a car because it would make them too independent and use of the word ‘coloured’ (as Amber Rudd is only too aware of) – it’s the awkward social situation and strained relationships which we can all relate to that make the play so timeless.
And it’s a delight to see ‘our Jodie’ doing what she does best on home soil.
Runs until Saturday.