Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party is a classic which is often associated with the kitsch mise en scene of the time; cheese & pineapple on sticks, Estee Lauder perfume, fibre optic lamps and Beaujolais in the fridge. But the play is more than a checklist of products of the 1970's. It's a highly astute look at social class and how many aspire to be one step above the rest.
The claustrophobia of an awkward party taking place in a Suburban Essex home is perfectly captured by Mike Britton's superb set design. The chintz, the garishness and the fully stocked bar - highlight the sense that Beverley and Laurence live their life on show - waiting to be complimented.
The Lowry's Lyric Theatre is perhaps to vast to pick up all of the detail, but if you sit in the stalls, not too far back - you can really appreciate what it must be like to be a guest at this party from hell. Hannah Waterman's Beverley is far removed from Alison Steadman's iconic TV play performance. She makes the role her own and brings a husky quality to the role - as she growls and captures Samuel Jones's Tony; devouring anything else that gets in her path.
Katie Lightfoot's Angela is pure perfection. Her knack for comedy is a joy to see and had many in the audience on the night I attended, laughing, throughout her scenes. Emily Raymond's Susan is a foil for Beverley - and she, like Lightfoot rises to the challenge with ease.
There are flat moments but this is more due to the fact that the actors have to project in such a big theatre, than anything else. In the Menier Chocolate Theatre, where this piece was first staged - the trapped guests would have felt consumed by Beverley. Here, we watch them boxed in but don't always feel that they have no escape. The Quays would have been a much better space for an intimate play, such as this.
Once the second half gets underway, Leigh does try to pack too much into the narrative. But this doesn't stop this being a classic well worth revisiting. Waterman, alone is worth the ticket price as the praying mantis from Essex, as she takes on the role with relish. This is a classic comedy with many tumbleweed moments and the entire cast deliver on this front and then some.
Attend Abigail's Party but get as near to the front as you can - for a completely immersive experience.