Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Abigail's Party, Stantonbury Theatre, Review


We’ve been to see The Play's The Thing Theatre Company’s production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party at the Stantonbury Theatre in Milton Keynes.

The play is set in the mid 1970’s in a lounge in suburbia. Beverly (played by Dawn Murphy) is hosting a dinner party for her new neighbours Tony (Liam Tims) and Angela (Heather Johnson) and established neighbour, divorcee Susan (Kerry Willison-Parry) whilst Susan’s teenage daughter Abigail is having a party down the road. The play illustrates that whilst the expectation may be that Abigail’s party will be the one in which those attending get out of control that in their own way the adults will also be breaking social expectations.

As with most of Leigh’s work this is a play which mixes satire and sharp social commentary with the darker side of life.

It was a very well acted production with a very strong cast. Initially I was worried that Murphy’s portrayal of Beverly was going to be almost a parody of Alison Steadman’s initial playing of the character as she imitated the voice which as younger person I was familiar with as being that belonging to Pam in Gavin and Stacy. However, it was the voice which belonged with the character and added to rather than detracted from the production. This was the voice of aspiration and the voice of the part of England which two years after this play is set was to put Thatcher into power.

Willison-Parry’s understated Susan was the strongest performance for me. Whilst in many ways being a background character there was a very strong stage presence from her.

Liam Tims might have seemed to have an easy part with the almost mono-syllabic Tony but it was clearly not the case. He acted it very well, using his body language and slouch to say far more than a more developed dialogue would have done.

Angela was convincingly played by Heather Johnson as was Laurence by Andy Watkins. They, as all the actors played the parts with the right amount of passion and humour without over playing their roles.
It was interesting to be transported back to the time of my youth when the décor and social norms were so different. In many ways it was a world away whilst also being so familiar to me. The results of the 1969 Divorce Act were still working their way through as the discussions of the empty shell marriages of their parents in Act One showed. The play also highlighted how there were different attitudes to domestic violence, which Karl who was too young to have known the 1970’s was shocked at. It is not that domestic violence does not exist now, rather it is thanks to the work of the feminist movement it is now far less accepted.
It was a play I was glad I had gone to see as I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well produced and directed by Rosemary Hill, a leading arts figure in Milton Keynes, who founded The Play's The Thing Theatre Company in 2008 and she made sure it kept true to the spirit of the original play.

My one regret was that the audience enjoying this production was so small, the theatre being less than half filled. There were a small group in there in 70’s dress and with a Tupperware container full of cheese and pineapple on sticks going for the full retro experience but all, whether in costume or not, seemed to enjoy it. If you get the chance to book and go along and see this play which runs at Stantonbury Theatre until Saturday (when there is a matinee in addition to the evening performance) I would highly recommend it. This really is a fine production which is well worth the money.

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