Following its success at The Menier Chocolate Factory, this classic 1970’s play has been running at the Wyndham’s Theatre these last few weeks, I’d never seen it but have heard about Alison Steadman’s career defining performance in the original. I had to read the script a while ago for a college module and so I was keen to see how this team would portray this piece. It’s a wickedly dark comedy as we see the lives and relationships of the characters implode.
Despite being written in 1977, Mike Leigh’s writing is still topical. The 1970’s drinks party may be of its time but the issues of trying to out do your neighbours, unhappy marriages and personal insecurity are relevant as ever.
I was particularly keen to see this as I wanted to see Andy Nyman, he’s an actor I’ve long admired. Susannah Harker is likewise an experienced actress I was also looking forward to seeing live. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much from Natalie Casey, Joe Absolom and Jill Halfpenny, mainly as I’ve been let down by TV soap actors being clearly out of their depth on stage in the past. My assumptions were shattered by these three though. This whole ensemble is what West End acting should be all about. Exceptional each and everyone.
Natalie Casey, as the dowdy, dour and innocent Angela, had great comic timing and was hilarious. What a transformation too, it really is like is seeing different person on stage compared to the glamorous woman she’s known for being. It just goes to show what an accomplished actress she is. Susannah Harker as the neighbour with the eponymous daughter Abigail, portrayed the akwardness of her characters situation superbly, I really felt for her as she’s surrounded by the cutting jibes and comments people make.
The play is often seen only in terms of the role of Beverly, played with definition and relish by Jill Halfpenny. Beverly is one of those characters you love to hate, she is so outrageously selfish and a real bitch sometimes, but behind the bravado and bite is a very hurting character.
Joe Absolom as grumpy Tony, doesn’t get a chance to get a word in edgeways often but his “reacting acting” to what the others were saying and doing was splendid and likewise added a great touch of comedy.
Andy Nyman as downtrodden and belligerent Laurence completed this exquisite cast, his dancing scene with Susannah Harker’s Susan was hilarious. His tragic ending took the play to an intense and powerful conclusion.
So here we have a play of intense emotions and characters, Lindsay Posner’s direction keeps this tugging at all our emotions as we follow the course Mike Leigh has set for his characters and us. It truly is a classic, I’m pleased I finally got to see it, and I think this cast make it a very special production to have seen.
STARS : * * * *