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Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh

The Theatre Royal Bath

08/04/13

From the moment you arrive at the theatre, Abigail’s Party promises to be a blast-from-the-past in the form of a 1970s Suburban living room. The room is beautifully encased in a box set, separate – and slightly raised – from the actual stage. As if staring into the screen of a television, the audience knows they’re going to be introduced to the lives of the inhabitants of the room, giving the effect of peering through their net curtains. This subtle installation onto the stage of the Main House at the Theatre Royal Bath is extremely clever.

The play itself smacks of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – we are thrown into the living room of a dysfunctional marital home that, as the show unfolds, demonstrates the disintegration of human interaction. The play opened beautifully with Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, giving the audience an immediate laugh and setting the scene for what was to follow. Hannah Waterman’s opening dance that accompanied the song was beautifully comic and allowed the audience to relax into the start of the piece, opening them up to receive what was to follow. Waterman’s portrayal of the vibrant, vivacious, social-climbing Beverly was performed with superb comic timing, highlighting the wit of Leigh’s writing.

Martin Marquez shone out from the others as the desperate, social climbing Estate Agent Laurence. He was consistently comfortable and convincing in his part throughout. His performance was matched by Katie Lightfoot (Angie) who gabbled and rambled throughout the entire show with extreme eagerness and great comic timing. Samuel James and Emily Raymond adequately portrayed the obnoxious Tony and mild-mannered Susan.

Lindsay Posner demonstrated a nice use of space and allowed the audience to believe they really were intruding on the living area of a family home. The use of music was particularly effective, the noise of Abigail’s party across the street providing a continual soundtrack of rebellious music. The dancing to the music inside the home provided the audience with many a laugh as Beverly’s dancing with Tony became raunchier, while Laurence’s dancing with the other two women became more and more formal.

Abigail’s Party does what it says on the bottle. You get to see a show set in the 1970s and watch as the evening unravels; it’s formulaic, it’s safe and so it serves its purpose. The issues tackled are timeless and were well executed. It would have been nice to have seen more variation in pace  – there were times it would have been nice for the awkward pauses to last longer, while the more static moments of the piece could have moved a little faster.

In all, the show was what an audience can expect from Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party.

Abigail’s Party runs until Saturday April 13. Tickets are available from the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or online via www.theatreroyal.org.uk

Reviewed by Grasey Mayes – 08/04/13