Abigail's Party

Sheringham Little Theatre

Pink, green and orange walls and loud flowery wallpaper make up the kitsch setting for this Stage Direct production, an ambitious stab at Mike Leigh's 1977 classic.

With her husband Laurence a bit of a bystander in his own home, Beverly plays hostess in red slinky dress to new neighbours Angela and Tony; also invited is dowdy Sue, forced out of home for the evening while her teenage daughter, Abigail, holds her own party next door.

As the drinks are ceaselessly poured, the veneer of cold social niceties and platitudes is stripped bare. Repressed boredom, frustration and anger bubble up to the surface: Beverly's barbs become ever sharper, Angela's gauche insensitivity is given full reign, silent Tony gets more and more edgy, the hapless Sue sinks lower and lower into her chair while Laurence – all simmering tension from the outset – seethes and snarls and finally erupts.

This is a savage satire, which can make you laugh and make you squirm, a difficult balance to achieve. If Stage Direct didn't quite pull it off on opening night, it seemed to be due to a few too many awkward moments in the wrong places and not enough frenetic energy in the right places.

The central role of Beverly is the glue which holds the play together. Alison Steadman, who made the role so indelibly her own, will always be a hard act to follow. Berni Alexandru's nerves sometimes seemed to prevent her relaxing into the role but in the second half she played the shameless seductress with real aplomb.

There was fine support: Kirsty O'Leary-Leeson as chatterbox Angela, Matt Warrington as taciturn Tone, Nigel Mansen as stressed-out Laurence and Jane Hodson as long-suffering Sue.

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