Abigails Party, The Reject Theatre Company - Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Guest Reviewer: Christine Adams-Davidson
Written in 1976 and first produced as a BBC1 Play for Today in 1977, this cult classic definitely stands the test of time. It has all the ingredients of a very funny yet painful look at the rising middle classes of the 1970’s; Abigail, who we never actually see is having a party next door.
Beverley and Laurence are holding a drinks party for the new neighbours Tony and Angela while Sue, the mother of Abigail, has been invited so that the fifteen year old Abigail can have the house free for her party. The original play was developed through long improvisation with the cast until it was developed to the play with now see today.
Robyn Gowers as chain smoking, gin swilling, Beverly showed us the sensual side of her character right from the start as she swayed to the record of ‘Love to Love you Baby’. Obviously bored with her life and her husband she soon swooped on Tony, using every inch of her body, every nuance of her voice when she spoke or touched him, you knew she was out for the kill, to spice up her boring suburban life. With an Alison Stoppard lilt to her voice she embodied the role of Beverly.
Barry Hester as Laurence played the role of the downtrodden overworked husband well. Laurence is quite irritating and not the nicest of characters but you did get to feel sorry for him as Beverly gradually wore him down while his final demise was well played. Being director as well as actor is always a hard task and when you have a large theatre with rake seating it is a difficult job to make the actors understand that they must project a little more, especially when the music is on in the background. Sometimes I must admit, I really had to strain to hear what was being said.
Karen Kelleher as Ange was super and had her character really off to a tee, with excellent timing and delivery she gave us the woman who is desperate to be part of Beverley’s crowd. Her cringingly tactless, naïve chatter and her wonderful dancing with Laurence were incredibly funny. Her tough practical side came in the second half when Laurence has his heart attack.
Kevin Richards as the chauvinistic Tony has a hard role as Ange tends to answer any questions put to him and when he does answer they are monosyllabic responses. He sits and gradually gets through copious amounts of nuts, crisps and drink. His change of character when he enjoys his dance with Beverly and his relishing of sorting out of the party next door shows the character hidden beneath. A shame that his wig didn’t seem to fit as it did stick out quite a bit and looked a bit comedic. Maybe this was the idea from the director but I think a better fitting one would have looked better.
The hardest role of all is that of Sue the neighbour. Sue comes from a middle class polite society and goes through a range of emotions as the awful scenes unfold in front of her. With the overbearing Beverley plying her with drink, while not being able to move most of the play, Sue has to use her body language and facial expressions to add to her character to show us just how uncomfortable she feels. Stephanies Yorke-Edewards did just that and gave us a character that we immediately felt sorry for.
The set was good with the seventies orange and brown horrendous wallpaper, green leather suite; drinks cabinet filled to the brim with drinks, pineapple shaped ice cube holder and onyx cigarette holder all of which brought the seventies fashions to the audience. My only bug bear was the wallpaper seemed to be pinned haphazardly and looked like it had been put up very hurriedly.
Lighting was suitable for the production and maybe if the sound was brought down a little when they were speaking it might have helped with the projection but this is a small comment on such an enjoyable night’s entertainment. This society never fails to produce excellent shows and I’ve heard it’s almost sold out so grab your ticket as soon as you can.