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Abigail’s Party review at the MAC, Belfast – ‘pin-sharp’

Roisin Gallagher as Beverly in Abigail's Party at the MAC, Belfast. Photo: Melissa Gordon Roisin Gallagher as Beverly in Abigail's Party at the MAC, Belfast. Photo: Melissa Gordon
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Abigail’s Party: the very title is synonymous with social climbing, terrible fashion and big hair. The epitome of car crash drama, its creator Mike Leigh described his merciless shredding of 1970s social norms as both a lamentation and a celebration of human behaviour.

This revival, four decades on, feels like a rendezvous with an old friend, with Diana Ennis’s kitsch orange and brown op art set and unfortunate costumes whisking us back in time. A pre-set announcement cleverly highlights the pressing issues of the day – Britain joining the Common Market, equal pay for women, the rising price of petrol. Plus ca change.

Richard Croxford’s sure direction nails the simmering marital tensions and upwardly mobile aspirations of a group of neighbours, who gather at Beverly and Laurence’s home for drinks, nibbles and awkward conversation. In the pivotal role, Roisin Gallagher is a bundle of sashaying energy and louche posturing. Her interpretation is at once humorous, desperate and grotesque. Pouting, flirting, devouring cigarettes and filling the silence with inane chatter, she moves the other players through their intimate confessions like chess pieces in a nasty little game.

The ensemble timing and individual characterisations are pin-sharp. Brigid Shine’s chirpy Angela and Craig Miller’s glowering Tony cut a troubling picture of a young marriage on the verge of disaster. Imogen Slaughter is all clipped, tense politeness as cultured divorcee Sue, mother of the invisible Abigail, while Will Irvine’s Laurence captures the ghastly mix of smarmy charm and lurking menace that explains precisely why Beverly is the way she is.

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Spirited acting and period kitsch deliver a sharply funny version of Mike Leigh’s merciless 1970s comedy