Abigail’s Party review at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – ‘an uneven revival’
As a 1977 Play for Today, Mike Leigh’s waspish comedy-drama Abigail’s Party became an impactful and influential examination of the suburban underbelly. Wreathed in cigarette smoke and doused in sloshing Bacardi, Douglas Rintoul’s revival, however, feels as dated as the décor. Opting to hammer home the humour, the production ends up with an uncertain tone which edges occasionally towards the cartoonish. The abrupt ending, already intended as a shock, feels simultaneously jarring and strangely flat here.
Heading an energetic cast, Melanie Gutteridge is horribly convincing as painfully shallow Beverly, resolutely refusing to see the hollowness at the heart of her aspirational lifestyle. Liam Bergin is similarly strong as taciturn neighbour Tony, conveying a world of awkwardness in a few terse words or tortuously stiff body language. Bringing some much-needed subtlety to the mix, Susie Emmett is a tightly-wound, impeccably frosty Susan, anxiously avoiding her teenage daughter.
Lee Newby’s lavish set captures the questionable aesthetics of the era down to the last detail, from the lava lamp in the corner to the ghastly geometric wallpaper, all picked out in a palette of drab orange and tan.
Ivan Stott’s sound design leans on light disco hits, interspersed satisfyingly with vintage radio adverts during the interval. The play’s intermittent moments of tension are marked by a grinding high-pressure tone which rumbles around the space. Throughout it all, the muffled drumbeat of blaring punk music plays through the wall, giving a distinct presence to the unseen party happening next door.