Skip to main content

Review of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh at the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes

By some distance my favourite play never seen performed live before is Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. It also very possibly might be "my favourite play" altogether. It is to me a perfectly judged and written piece which sublimely creates five vivid characters who generally hate each other (even those married to one another) and liberally tosses them into a melting pot of hostility, class struggle and sadness. Across its path we get simmering rivalries, high comedy and also at one point cleverly removing the males of the piece to have a perfectly placed woman's chitchat. It is to me, just perfect.

This opinion of course comes from just one version of the show, the 1977 (a good year) BBC TV production of the original Hampstead play, which included a career defining performance from Alison Steadman as Beverly and all but one of the original theatre productions cast. They all make the roles their own and indeed working with Mike Leigh at the time, they very much created the characters persona's. So we have a rather solid foundation to the characters through those individual performers, so how would new people in the roles come across? The opportunity to find out was to hard to resist, therefore when I found that The Play's The Thing Theatre Company was to perform it fifteen minutes train ride (and a little walk) away from me down in Milton Keynes. I had to make the effort to find out.

It was most certainly worth the effort as while it was clearly heavily influenced by that classic first edition (how could it not be), both the performances and production were of an extremely high standard. On first entering the theatre (and a gorgeous theatre it is too, including lovely comfy seats), we are presented with a clever spin on the room set. I am not sure if this is a standard, but the room is presented on the diagonal rather than flat on. This is a neat design and that as well as the lovely retro feel is a great credit to designer Kevin Jenkins. Also those famous album covers are all present (I understand loving recreated), so we have Demis and Tom in all their glory on the shelf.

The performances are of an equally high standard, starting with our lead Beverly played with cutting edge and sexual frisson by Dawn Murphy. She is excellent throughout and her suggestive remarks to the relatively silent Tony are wonderful. Tony is played with the correctly styled "Yeahs" by Liam Tims and remains for much of the play an enigma, with his true character only coming out in the second act. Andy Watkins as the pompous Laurence is wonderful also, with his best moments in particularly in his second act including his underlying diatribe against Tony, and of course that classic Shakespeare line that I love so much. He is also suitably heated in his conversation during those moments when Beverly and Tony are getting to know each other more.

Heather Johnson's Angela is some distance physically from her original incarnation, she is nowhere near plain enough and I missed those glorious seventies specs. However that highly irritating voice is performed to perfection and you can't help but feel sorry for her especially towards the end when things are given that grimmer edge. It does however feel like Johnson's Angela is a little tougher than the original. Finally we have the mother of the title character, Susan, played with suitable refinement by Kerry Willison-Parry. It is a suitably quiet role, but performed lovingly.

They are without question all wonderful performances which are done without the feel of the great weights of those epic first incarnations upon their shoulders. It must be a challenge and indeed brave to try to recreate classic characters which many will so associate with just one performer. However this was a wonderful production of for me an all time classic. Oh and just so you know, I can't stand olives.


Performance viewed: Saturday 16th May, 2015 (matinee) at the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes.

The Play's The Thing Theatre Compnay performed Abigail's Party between Tuesday 12th and Saturday 16th May, 2015 at the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes

For further details about The Play's The Thing Theatre Company visit their website at: http://playsthethingtheatrecompany.co.uk/

For further details about the Stantonbury Theatre visit their website at: http://www.stantonburytheatre.co.uk/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Madame Bovary by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Rosanna Lowe's version of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary was originally commissioned by Simon Godwin for the Northampton Royal Theatre, so it perhaps seems apt, that it returns to a stage of the same town, in this new wacky interpretation from Masque Theatre.

Masque's publicity for the show, describes it as a "madcap tragedy", and for those more familiar with Flaubert's novel you shall perhaps be a little surprised by the anarchic version created here. This is tragedy played for full-on slapstick effect, and while at times it might seem overwhelming in its intensity, the ride we are taken on is a delight.

Directed by Tamsyn Payne and Alex Rex and a team of talented creatives, Madame Bovary's props and design are every bit as important as the talented cast wielding them. For an amateur production, the attention to detail is nothing short of staggering. Gloriously created books filled with delights, puppet dogs and children, mini nuns, and little baskets…

Review of The Selfish Giant at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The Selfish Giant is a curious one. I left uplifted and genuinely happy by the whole affair, yet slightly perturbed as to whether at its heart, it was actually as good as the heart was saying.

Based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, songwriter and musician Guy Chambers has given the piece a musical workover. The Giant (played by Jeff Nicholson) has a wonderful garden which the local children love to play in. However, this is a selfish giant after all, so, annoyed by their presence, he builds a wall to prevent them from entering. The scene is set for this story of personal redemption.

Creating a sung-through musical is a challenge, and Chambers succeeds in The Selfish Giant, although perhaps at the cost of a great deal of variety to the pieces. The weakness of The Selfish Giant always lies at the heart of both lacking numbers you take with you after the show, and indeed variety. The appearance of the giant, in the pacy and deep, real deep, vocals in The Angry Giant is one clear example,…

Review of UoN Fringe: Lawmen by Flux Theatre at The Platform, Northampton

Way back in April 2014, No Way Out was the first production that I saw from local amateur group Masque Theatre, it was a version of Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos (No Exit), and four years later, the University of Northampton group Flux Theatre provide another version, presented in a far more claustrophobic style and modernised considerably.

Seated in a circle, barely more than five metres in diameter, the three actors. Amber Jade Harrison, James Grayson and Ross Bayliss perform an adaptation of Huis Clos, titled Lawmen. This becomes perhaps one of the closest proximity productions that I have ever seen, and likely to, so much so, that often the actors are even seated in adjacent seats. to the audience.

We, the audience, are not there, of course, it may be close contact, but these three characters are in their own world. These three have been thrown into this Sartre inspired world of lies, and deception. Who are the truthful ones, who is the controlling menace? We do not know of co…