Anne's Well Gardens, Hove, until August 5, Wed-Sun only,
have to confess to being an Abigail's Party fan, having
seen it on video countless times, and a few years ago
at the Theatre Royal...
me the star of the show is Sarah Mann as the irritating
Angela. Somehow she brings a likeability and softness
to the role - whilst still making you sympathise with
her husband Tony's wish to sellotape her mouth up. David
Scaratt is also very convincing as the overstressed Lawrence.
in a garden rather than a living room, rickety orange
painted garden furniture adds to the uncomfortable atmosphere
for Beverley's guests and helps the dynamic of the play
- Angela swaying playfully on the swingset, Sue feeling
sick, Tony and Lawrence squashed up together and hating
even gained an extra cast member at one point - a stray
is a very enjoyable evening's entertainment. I just wish
I'd prepared better, to avoid my picnic and deckchair
Review of Abigail’s Party in Plays International Xmas/ New Year 2007/8
By Jeremy Malies
An open-air version of Abigail’s Party seemed about as incongruous as, say, The Caretaker on ice and I feared the worst as I trotted along to a park in Hove. But Incisor is a company that has thrived on risk for ten years and director James Madden’s imagination is obviously less hidebound than my own.
The piece will always revolve around a claustrophobic setting and the inability of cast and audience to escape Beverly’s withering put-downs. By ramping up the music from the party that we never see, Madden somehow made his interpretation of the play inhabit the whole of this outdoor arena as the action took place in Laurence and Bev’s garden.
We were spared the stone tiling but not the Demis Roussos LP, pineapple nibbles, Cinzano and lava lamp. Any period details missing from the props and soundtrack were reinforced by Graham Paul’s set which artfully hinted at the interior.
The piece will always stand or fall by the performance of the actress playing Beverly, and Hannah Summers proved a success in her screeching vulgarity. The treatment was never in thrall to Alison Steadman’s definitive version though Summers borrowed intelligently from the BBC Play For Today adaptation when it suited her.
Sarah Mann is a character actress of prodigious range. The part of the cringing Angela who falls totally under Beverly’s spell proved a cakewalk for her and Mann invested her role with far more vitality than is usual. Initially I thought this was going to upset the dynamic of the plot since Angela’s husband, a taciturn former footballer must be able to hint that he is a wife-beater. But Jeff Longland acquired detail in his character unobtrusively and his compelling presence in the later scenes more than hinted at domestic violence.
If there was one minor shortcoming it was that the actors did not always indulge in enough ‘dead air’, the embarrassing silences that should accompany Beverly’s foot-in-mouth moments. But the fact that a play with so little plot could succeed outdoors with all the distractions of a public park, not to mention Sussex’s biggest cricket match of the season taking place a thousand yards away, is testimony to the quality of the ensemble work
Exactly 30 years after the play first appeared, Incisor conjured up a wonderful treatment of the piece which captured the shallowness of both the social setting and period. The real merit of the writing is that this could so easily be the present. Replace Beverly’s tray of snacks with tortilla chips and dips, the turntable music centre with a plasma screen, Laurence’s succession of minis with a people carrier and you’ve got an acquisitive horror show that is still being played out all over suburbia. Author Mike Leigh would have appreciated the abundant wit and irreverence of an approach that made this version of his play an unexpected and unqualified success.