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Abigail's Party

Abigail’s Party


Park Theatre

Abigail's Party

Abigail’s Party

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 11th November 2021



“It bears the wrinkles of age, yet this production at the Park Theatre feels wonderfully fresh”


When Mike Leigh was approached by the Hampstead Theatre, back in 1977, to write a new play he initially told them that it was out of the question. He was busy and that was that. But over a long lunch he was eventually persuaded and before dessert came, he had been offered ten week’s rehearsal time and a cast of five to come up with one of his ‘improvised’ plays. “I’ll do it and get it out of the way” he told his wife (Alison Steadman) when he got home, “it’ll sink without trace”.

“Abigail’s Party” was a smash hit. The hottest ticket in town and subsequently wheeled into the studios to become a success on television and eventually Leigh’s hallmark ‘state of the nation’ play. Over forty years later there is the inherent danger that any revival would come across as dated. But in an age where theatre is under pressure to be ‘relevant’ or ‘resonant’, Vivienne Garnett’s production avoids the pitfalls. Instead, it is filled with period charm that serves as a reminder that Leigh’s seminal work should not be updated or shoehorned into modern day sensibilities. The language and sentiments that jar nowadays remain on record. Thankfully we can laugh instead of being offended. The writer can take the credit for this, although in this case it is mainly down to the fine performances of an excellent cast, who wear so well the uncomfortable clothes of Leigh’s characters.

We are thrust into their world immediately. Beth Colley’s design pays attention to every detail, evoking not just the era beautifully but also the overriding sense of class and social standing – the Lowry and Van Gogh prints, and leather-bound Shakespeare that “can’t be read”. The furnishings, tableware, and decor. We are truly in the land of light ale and ‘little’ cigarettes.

We are introduced to the characters one by one. Beverly is preparing for an evening of drinks with her new neighbours, Angela and Tony. She has also invited another neighbour, Susan, whose fifteen-year-old daughter Abigail is holding a party at home. Beverly’s husband comes in from work, harassed, sweary and sweating, just before the guests arrive. Gin and Bacardi soon wash away the initial stiffness, but as the alcohol takes hold, frostiness turns to flirting turns to fighting.

Kellie Shirley burns with nervous energy in a quite captivating performance as Beverly, capturing the bundles of contradictions. Unable to stop talking, unable to take no for an answer and unable to resist upstaging her husband, she is a ghastly character, but Shirley shows us too the sadness and vulnerability. Laurence is already stressed enough, as the workaholic estate agent, and is unable to relax in his wife’s company. As they bait each other they use their guests as ammunition. Ryan Early struts like a dangerous dog, firing unveiled snipes left right and centre, adding to his wife’s guest’s discomfort. Matt Di Angelo, as the mostly monosyllabic Tony, conveys a whole backstory with just a raised eyebrow. “He’s not violent, he’s just a bit nasty” Angela confides, but Di Angelo’s immaculately placed performance reveals dark undercurrents that force us to doubt her words. Emma Noakes’ Angela is wonderfully silly and timid, simultaneously oppressed, and strong. A tough character to get right but Noakes pulls it off superbly. Barbara D’Alterio gives a stillness to Susan that combines grace and manners with disdain. She is too polite to leave but, clearly, would rather be elsewhere.

It is an emotion the audience don’t share. This is a lively, dynamic, and absorbing evening. Admittedly there are no real surprises, but we knew that. “Abigail’s Party” has a familiarity about it that it probably cannot shake off now. It bears the wrinkles of age, yet this production at the Park Theatre feels wonderfully fresh.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Christian Davies


Abigail’s Party

Park Theatre until 4th December


Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
When Darkness Falls | ★★★ | August 2021
Flushed | ★★★★ | October 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Abigail’s Party – 3.5 Stars


Abigail’s Party

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Reviewed – 6th September 2018


“a lively revival”


The yellow heavily-patterned wallpaper, the orange lava lamp and beige leather sofas create Lee Newby’s wonderful set, dragged straight out of the seventies.

Beverly puts a record on, pours herself a drink, lights a cigarette and begins to dance. She is having a party, the neighbours are coming round. But Abigail, Susan’s fifteen year old daughter, is also having a party next door. This is the opening to Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ which was first written in 1977, and considers class, relationships and the culture of suburbia. Certainly some topical points of discussion in today’s society, though these contemporary parallels could be more heavily delved into. The production hints at these more poignant moments, but shies away from truly exploring them. Ivan Stott’s sound design has the familiar seventies records which punctuate the play underscored with a throbbing base from next door, a consistent reminder of the speed with which culture changes.

There isn’t a weak link across the cast. Amy Downham’s Angela is lively, warm and vivid, with fantastic comic timing. Susie Emmett as Susan is a lovely presence on stage, grounded and subtle in her performance. Melanie Gutteridge plays the overbearing Beverly, topping up everyone’s glasses and dancing too close to Tony (Liam Bergin) as she insists on another record. Bergin’s Tony feels slightly uncertain, a harmless, comic presence initially that makes the later revelations about his character less convincing, or perhaps the dichotomy isn’t pushed far enough. Some of the strongest moments come as the company sits in silence together, shuffling awkwardly, a strong comic motif of the production.

Towards the second half of the play, there begins a tendency toward the farcical which makes the ending feel slightly confused, neither emotionally impactful nor overly funny. The shock effect is not felt in the way it should be, and the reactions to the situation feel somewhat ingenuine.

This is a lively revival of Mike Leigh’s classic, supported by strong performances but in need of a more impactful finale.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Mark Sepple



Abigail’s Party

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 22nd September


Abi, a contemporary response to Abigail’s Party by Atiha Sen Gupta is running alongside Abigail’s Party – review here


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rope | ★★★★ | February 2018
The Game of Love and Chai | ★★★ | April 2018
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | ★★★ | May 2018


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