Beverly enters the room like a star from Hollywood’s golden age, flinging open the double doors with outstretched arms. Though this glamorous image collapses the moment she opens her mouth.
In Amanda Huxtable’s revival of Mike Leigh’s popular play – a production opened at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch just last month – Katharine Bennett-Fox is hilariously monstrous as the vain and spectacularly insensitive hostess. She’s a delight to watch.
Huxtable’s new production adds a new layer to Leigh’s comedy of awkwardness. The casting of two black actors, Daniel Ward and Ani Nelson, as neighbours Tony and Angela brings a new unsettling dynamic to the play. The combative discussion towards the end from Beverley’s husband Lawrence (Duncan MacInnes) about the how the neighbourhood has changed is aimed airily, yet unsubtly, at Tony and Angela. It brings a nastier edge to this comedy of social mobility.
MacInnes’ eager-to-please mask as host conceals something altogether bleaker and angrier; he gradually starts to remind you of Enoch Powell with his spiv-like moustache and swept back hair.
The comic timing of the whole cast is superb – particularly Ward’s stony-faced responses – but the laughs are tempered by an increasing sense of uneasiness.
Despite its blandly familiar suburban setting – Emma Williams’ set design includes a silver birch tree, and a large screen at the back which shimmers with images of trees in full leaf – Huxtable has turned Leigh’s play into something more insidious and disturbing.