Brimming with 1970s motifs, retro décor and musical blasts from the past, Abigail's Party transformed the Everyman Theatre stage into a suburban scene from times gone by, during an outstanding opening performance in Cheltenham.
Whether bringing back memories of their grandparents, parents, or childhood homes, every generation of the audience could appreciate the wooden-cladded house, archetypal of the era with garish orange curtains, a room divider with hi-fi and drinks cabinet, and Lowry paintings on the wall – not to mention an OTT fluffy white rug.
Blasting the sensual sounds of Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’, the 70s set opened to envelop the audience, inviting them into Beverly’s house during an intimate and humorous scene which set the tone for an evening of shameful sniping, cringe-worthy comedy and distasteful diatribes.
With Mike Leigh’s BBC adaptation of Abigail's Party boasting a cult following, it's fair to say that Sherlock star Amanda Abbington was brave to step into Alison Steadman’s shoes – or in this case, gold platforms.
Sure to have audiences laughing, reminiscing, and craving a stiff gin, Abigail's Party was just as crass, crude and comic as one would expect.
However, from her diva dance moves and those fleeting seductive glances, to her flawless London accent and witty one-liners, Amanda excelled in the role of oppressive hostess.
Invading personal space, unaware of tact, and plying her guests with gin, cigarettes and snacks to distract from the horrible atmosphere, Amanda epitomised the self-importance of a queen bee, making the role of Beverly totally her own.
The perfect counterpart to Beverley’s disingenuous smiles was Charlotte Mills who played the role of talkative newlywed, Angela; while Abigail’s anxious mother Susan seemed torn between shock, submission and shyness, powerless against Beverly’s formidable presence and silent through tactless discussions about divorce and the dangers of teenage parties.
Beverly’s workaholic husband, Laurence, and Angela’s glowering husband, Tony, completed the five-strong cast, whose flawless performance was cohesive, perfectly timed and did justice to Mike Leigh’s exposé of middle-class 70s society.
A personal highlight was the hilarious dance routine from Angela, whose entire gin and tonic-downing, gabbling performance was excellent and commanded the stage in her gaudy green and pink outfit.
Meanwhile, the audience obviously appreciated the nostalgic 70s references and motifs, from discussions about Greek singer Demis Roussos and songs from ‘the King’ Elvis Presley, to Party Seven beer and iconic pineapple and cheese on a stick snacks.
With no extraordinary special effects, set changes, or overly-dramatic action – at least until the end – Sarah Esdaile’s adaptation proved that a stellar cast and strong script is all that’s required for a brilliant performance, with the fantastic cast faultless throughout.
Sure to have audiences laughing, reminisicing, and craving a stiff gin, Abigail's Party was just as crass, crude and comic as one would expect.
Whether you’re a fan of the BBC show, or a newcomer, SoGlos highly recommends that you snap up a ticket and join Beverly’s smoky, awkward and hilarious 70s party in Cheltenham.
By Kathryn Godfrey
Tuesday 14 March 2017
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