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Abigail's Party

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
England may have been dreaming when Mike Leigh devised his now iconic
suburban drama in 1977, but the Thatcherite nightmare was already
looming. In this respect, this painful tale of warped aspiration set
against a living-room backdrop of garish fixtures and fittings now
looks as much like prophecy as the wall-paper appears retro-chic.

Leigh's play focuses on one night at home with Beverly and Laurence,
who are hosting an open-house to meet their new neighbours, Angela and
Tony. Also on the guest-list is middle-aged divorcee Susan, whose
teenage daughter Abigail is having a very different kind of gathering
to the ones the grown-ups are painfully stumbling through.

With such a set of perfect stereotypes, it would be easy to resort to
1970s theme bar kitsch in Lindsay Posner's production for the Theatre
Royal, Bath and the Chocolate Factory, and redirected for this tour by
Tom Attenburgh. Yet here it more resembles Who's Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? reimagined by the real life grotesques of The Only Way Is Essex.
As soon as Beverly puts a bottle of Beaujolais in the fridge, it's
tragically apparent that here is a play that possibly says more about
the British class system at a particular point in late twentieth
century history than any other.

Hannah Waterman gives Beverly a monstrous and tragic depth. Old before
her time, she's playing house in a loveless nouveau-riche hell of
relentless small-talk punctuated by her desperate dry-humping of Tony.
Meanwhile, the punk rock revolution is already being soundtracked next
door with Abigail and co, who appear to be rewriting a very different
future for themselves which is about to turn the world upside down.

The Herald, February 28th 2013


ends

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