site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Mortimer Dramatic Society - Abigail's Party

18th, 19th, 25th and 26th January 2002.

This is the review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Full marks for cringe

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh: Mortimer Dramatic Society, at St John’s Hall, Mortimer on January 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th

In 1977, when Mike Leigh wrote Abigail’s Party, houses cost £21,000 and putting red wine in the fridge was the height of naffness. 25 years on, you can add a nought to the house price, and chilled Beaujolais is fashionable, but the play retains its full cringe factor.

Beverly is married to estate agent Laurence and has invited new neighbours Tony and Angela round for drinks and nibbles, and to meet another neighbour Sue, whose teenage daughter Abigail is having a party. The two lower-middle class couples bicker among themselves and manage to humiliate one another and upper-middle class Sue. This is the play that launched Mike Leigh’s career and introduced the ‘development by improvisation’ that is characteristic of his work. The awfulness of the couples is gradually exposed, and climaxes when Laurence dies of a heart attack.

Mortimer fielded a strong team of actors. Jane Hodgson was splendidly nasty as Beverly, bringing out her inbuilt superiority to all the others as well as her contempt for Laurence. She ploughed through the feelings of her neighbours, blissfully ignorant of the damage she was doing. Tom Shorrock, as the overworked and overstressed Laurence, showed the frustration of living with Beverly by trying unsuccessfully to impress Sue. Mari Fleming, as Angela, was convincingly scatty and naïve, and Mike Picking, as her computer operator husband Tony was spot on as the taciturn ex-footballer with anger waiting to erupt – there was a nice touch when he yells “Get up” at Angela, and Susan dutifully gets up as well. Finally, Cathy Bowman made an excellent Susan, not fitting in with her neighbours but not patronising them either.

The set and the costumes were just right – I loved Tony’s flares and sheepskin waistcoat.

Director Megan Bush pushed the cast just a bit too far towards caricature, especially Angela and Laurence, whose exaggerated accents could have been toned down somewhat. The comedy was very well done and the pace was good throughout, but the moments of tension were not so effective. The antagonism between Laurence and Tony was good, but in the scenes towards the end the suppressed anger between Laurence and Beverly didn’t appear, and Laurence’s build-up to his heart attack was understated. 

The overall feeling was of a good production with a lot of laughs, much appreciated by the full house audience on Saturday.