“I told you nobody'd like olives Laurence.” says the lead character Beverly to her put down husband. He retorts, “Not nobody Beverly: I like olives. And that's twenty-five per cent of the assembled company” In such cleverly written lines throughout Leigh's comically tragic masterpiece, Abigail's Party, we recognise 1970s affluent pretension gone horribly wrong. The fact that we still laugh at the play is not a hark back to lesser cultural times but the fact that all the bickering and one-upmanship we witness on the stage still holds in society today.
The Curve production is set in their studio space which, for the first time ever, has been turned into a theatre in the round and Suba Das's wonderful production does a fantastic job of almost inviting you, as the very close audience, directly into the increasingly uncomfortable action. The square space is raised slightly and covered in a terribly brown, red and black 1970s carpet and a huge curved brown leather sofa with matching leather chair opposite. In two corners are Laurence's desk and opposite a drinks cabinet with a record player and record collection. Various lamps create a homely feel.
Two exits are used to take the actors on and off the set and throughout the play we get to see young couple Angela and Tony (Emily Head and Cary Crankson). Head brilliantly bordering on vacuous and very amusing with it. Crankson in a beautifully studied role as Tony – a man with so little to say that it is a shock when he comes out with a short speech. Head and Crankson work very well as a couple invited into a party from hell. Not even Beverly's husband Laurence, subtly played as a man on the edge of cracking yet trying to retain his dignity in immensely trying circumstances, by Patrick Moy can save this social disaster from sliding into the proverbial flames.
Lastly we see Sue, an older neighbour and divorcee, whose teenage girl is having a party, arrive with a bottle of red Beaujolais that Beverly whisks off to be put to chill in the fridge much to the amusement and gasps of the audience. Sue is played by actress Jackie Morrison as a slightly nervous character and certainly the most sober and less garrulous of the group; that is until constant drinks are forced upon her by the unthinking Beverly. Morrison adds depth to Sue as the story unfolds and she goes from nervous and stiff to standing her ground whilst all around becomes chaotic.
Abigail's Party at Curve is one of the funniest and well observed performances I have seen of the play and many of the laughs came not just from the wit, drawn from social embarrassments, but from the unsaid and pauses. The scene where they all blow smoke rings is a classic moment. As I left my seat I heard another audience member say “I didn't expect that to happen” referring to the play's tragic end. I just goes to show that the plays that you think everyone knows can have a brand new audience appreciation. Highly recommended.
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews.
Abigail's Party runs until Saturday 8th November 2014 at Leicester Curve.