Plays thrive on monsters – those abominable characters we all love to hate. Few in late 20th century drama match up to Beverly, the hostess from hell who dominates Mike Leigh’s 1977 satirical comedy Abigail’s Party. In Richard Frost’s production at Aldeburgh and Southwold she is played by Rebecca Raybone, gowned in flowing turquoise and circulating venom as readily as a succession of gins and tonic. It’s a delectable performance.
Beverly’s satellites are her stressed-out husband Laurence (Jonathan Ashley in a well-judged portrait of a man whose best is never going to be good enough and mousey housewife Angela, played as a natural victim by Louise Shuttleworth). Pauline Whitaker is Susan, whose teenage daughter is giving the offstage party, and who is little at ease with these newcomers to her neighbourhood. Angela’s husband, faded footballer Tony, is given the right aura of scarcely-suppressed violence by Ben Tillett.
Free-flowing alcohol, cheese cubes on sticks, cigarettes on offer and a choice of 12-inch records. It all seems so very far away and long ago. But this goldfish bowl full of sprats out of their native waters has stood the test of time. When I saw the original production I remember thinking that the climax of the second act didn’t quite ring true. This staging conjures no such misgiving; it blends actual tragedy with its mirror-image of farce to leave its audience wincing rather than merely cringing. We don’t like any of these people much, but we do recognise them.