Abigail’s Party ~ Malvern Theatres

Running at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 22 April 2017, click here to book tickets: Malvern Theatres

Abigail’s Party was quite ground-breaking in its day, with the incomparable Mike Leigh at the helm and Alison Steadman heading up the cast as Beverly, it made waves on screen and on stage. The production that is currently on UK tour keeps to the essentials that are familiar to those who have encountered the show before, in whatever incarnation it might be – however there are subtle changes that individualise it, too. Here are some strengths of the production and observations:

©NOBBY CLARK

Amanda Abbington ~ take on an iconic role and you’ll be met with scrutiny, undoubtedly. What I liked about Abbington’s portrayal of Beverly was that she has made her own mark on the part and it was clear that she was deviating from Steadman’s way of playing the monstrous hostess. Although there were many time throughout the play when Abbington reminded me of Steadman, I realise that it’s always going to be difficult to travel so far away from the original ‘way’. Especially when the original is so popular and renowned.

Passive-Aggression ~ previously, I have only seen this on television before so certain themes and elements of the script weren’t highlighted as clearly as they can be and indeed, were on stage. Passive-aggression is a theme which I associate with the story, especially in relation to Laurence (played by Ben Caplan in this piece) as the tension he’s feeling builds up until a frenzy ensues. I hadn’t taken particular notice of how passive-aggressive Tony (played by Ciaran Owens) can be. In fact in this version his ‘bullying’ of Ange (Charlotte Mills) is out there and quite uncomfortable to watch in the nicest possible way.

©NOBBY CLARK

Staging ~ the staging replicates the set that I know so well from the TV incarnation and that drew my attention from the outset. It was so authentic-looking that I could almost have been watching it on ‘the box’ and that is a great strength of this production, for me.

Ange ~ Charlotte Mills played Angela very differently to Janine Duvitski who originated the character. I always felt that Duvitski played the role as a caricature whereas Mills has put a different take on it and given more substance to the role. I am aware that this noticeable change (in my opinion) could be highlighted by TV vs Stage though.

Music ~ Demi Roussos has always been an artist that I associate with this show, but all of the music choices make it what it is. Yes, Demi is an integral cog, but Elvis is as much a part of the play and then there’s Laurence’s aptly timed classical ‘favourites’ too. Music can add an extra dimension to a piece and it just wouldn’t be Abigail’s Party without the soundtrack being spot on.

Thanks to Guest Reviewer: Jen Franklin

 

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Abigail’s Party ~ Oxford Playhouse

Abigail’s Party continues its UK tour…

Star rating: *****

Strains of Donna Summer and Demis Roussos on the turntable, flock wallpaper and a retro bar, can only be setting the scene for Mike Leigh’s classic piece, Abigail’s Party. Devised and directed by Mike Leigh in 1977, the television incarnation starred Alison Steadman as nightmare hostess, Beverly and is an iconic masterpiece.

Photo Credit: Nobby Clark

It’s an abundantly dark piece with many cringe-inducing moments and essentially offers the audience a snapshot of the lives of five unhappy people – although their misery may not be immediately evident. Each of the five characters masks their dysfunctional existence, whether it be with the aid of alcohol or hiding behind their jobs, wealth or possessions – or indeed lack there of. As the evening draws on, vulnerabilities come to the fore and the façade falls away. Beverly (Amanda Abbington) is hosting the gathering which brings all of these ‘misfits’ to the same place at the same time. Her husband Laurence (Ben Caplan) doesn’t particularly play co-host as you would expect, instead he’s preoccupied with work and suffering from indigestion. Angela (Charlotte Mills) and Tony (Ciaran Owens) are new to the neighbourhood, Angela is a nurse, fresh-faced, naïve and easy prey to a narcissist like Beverly. Tony is attractive, has an air of confidence for a man of few words and instantly catches Beverly’s eye. Sue (Rose Keegan) is the last to arrive, her daughter, Abigail is having a party and her mother is obviously deeply concerned about it. It seems to me that Sue might not have had much of a say in this party taking place, fifteen year old Abigail sounds like the type to have rail-roaded to get her own way. Beverly, on the other hand is delighting in the fact that teenagers are across the road having a good time.

Photo credit: Nobby Clark

Amanda Abbington is deliciously wicked as Beverly, dominating Angela with an over-bearing and powerful presence, throwing frequent derogatory comments in Laurence’s direction and positively smouldering around Tony. The sexual tension between the pair is palpable. Abbington is well known from the television, however if you can catch her playing a role which was made for her, you’ll be grateful that you did. Abbington is a force on the boards and it’s hard to believe that theatre hasn’t sustained the bulk of her career. Long may she continue with live performance. Ben Caplan is quite the match for her as Laurence, he’s a ball of pent up energy as he tries to juggle his job, Beverly’s demands and co-hosting the do. Caplan capably shows the shift in Laurence’s persona as he becomes more agitated, increasingly irate and eventually loses it completely with his wife. Charlotte Mills is a revelation as Angela, she simpers, smiles and demonstrates excellent comic timing. The lack of chemistry between Angela and Tony is obvious and should be treated as quite natural as it is inexplicable why they would have ended up married to one another. Mills’ facial expressions speak volumes when she has no dialogue and she captured my attention for that reason. Ciaran Owens also has impeccable timing, he conveys much without saying a word and the chemistry that develops between Tony and Beverly is blatant. It feels as though Owens steers this element so that it isn’t unnecessarily overt though, he tones it down when the moment calls for it, giving substance to the role. Rose Keegan as Sue completes the picture, much as the character is shy, unassertive and spends the majority of the play looking decidedly uncomfortable, there is a sparky personality which struggles to emerge. Keegan plays this with a remarkable combination of quiet determination and inhibited emotion. Sue’s intoxication from Beverly’s insistence of plying her with alcohol (and on an empty stomach) sneaks up as typically, the character is not drawing attention to herself.

The set is authentic in comparison to the popular television version, it almost felt as if I’d stepped into the television in fact and had a closer window in on the action. If you’ve seen the piece before, be it on stage or on screen, I urge you to see this production as there is a fresh take on a classic, here. If you’ve never seen it before, this is the perfect introduction to a show which was born out of improvisation, as Leigh’s work famously is. With no weak links in the five strong cast and either hearty or indeed nervous laughter emulating from the audience, this is a sure-fire hit.

 

Wendy and Peter Pan ~ RSC, Stratford

Wendy _ Peter Pan production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179189Wendy _ Peter Pan production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179294

Atmospheric before the play itself had begun, Wendy and Peter Pan at the RSC in Stratford has to be one of the most stunningly effective and pristinely performed pieces I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, this year.

Knowledge of the tale was not necessarily required, as Ella Hickson’s eloquent writing tells a thorough story. Perfectly cast with Mariah Gale and Rhys Rusbatch in the title roles and RSC Associate Artist Darrell D’Silva as Hook.

The scene was set in the beautifully ornate nursery where the interaction between the four Darling children (with Sam Clemmett as Tom, James Corrigan as John and Jordan Metcalfe as Michael completing the line up with their sister) opened the production in spectacular style. Completing the family unit were Rebecca Johnson and Patrick Toomey as their parents. The picture window provided a magical backdrop for Peter Pan’s dramatic entrance, aided and abetted by his many shadows who displayed precise choreographed movement.

The set moved to accommodate the journey that the children ultimately took with Pan, the alternation was so spot on it was hardly noticeable. Neverland was the stuff that dreams are made of, the lost boys were a zany mixed bag of personalities who complemented each other superbly. Then there’s the tremendous performance put in by Charlotte Mills a rather bawdy but thoroughly loveable Tink!

Peter Pan’s den emerged delightfully from beneath the stage, this theatre’s stage lends itself to this degree of technicality and it made such an impact. The visual effects, including flying and fights between pirates and lost boys which exuded sheer energy. Notable about Rusbatch’s performance was the exuberance he maintained throughout, in stark contrast to the dark yet comedic character that D’Silva out across as Hook.

The pirates in Hook’s gang were all excellent as individuals as well as a gaggle, David Langham played Knock Bone Jones and portrayed hilarious stark contrast to star of ITV’s Benidorm’s Adam Gillen who played a disillusioned Martin. Of course the pirate ship was a joy to behold and the crowing glory.

The RSC have a Christmas show to be proud of, heart-warming, heart-breaking and incredibly touching while sustaining an edge of wonder throughout.

It’s on until 31st January, for details and to book tickets, follow this link: https://www.rsc.org.uk/wendy-and-peter-pan/tickets/

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