Friday, 7 September 2018

REVIEW: Abi at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch

It was extremely interesting to see Abi immediately after watching the latest revival of Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s party set in “theoretical Romford” suburbia in the seventies. Writer Atiha Sen Gupta imagines the same location in 2018 and the granddaughter of Abigail whose party took place next door to Beverly’s disastrous drinks party in the original play. She draws inspiration for the new piece from the structure and themes of the original play and updates it for the twenty first century.

Abi is the fifteen year old great granddaughter of Susan who we have met in the first play as the reluctant guest but her grandmother, the 15 year old Abigail of the seventies play, is in hospital terminally ill. Just as in the first play we are watching a host set up for a domestic party while off stage another drama is playing out this time not next door but at the hospital. We never learn in the original play exactly what went on in the offstage party which two characters, Laurence and Tony drop in on but during the course of the new companion piece the writer speculates on what Mike Leigh might have imagined was happening and the consequences.

In the course of the energetic monologue Abi, played by Safiyya Ingar, explores the shifts in tastes and technology. Gone is the music on Long Playing Records instead she connects her I phone to Alexa and selects her play list for the party. Gone too are the pineapple and cheese on sticks, a staple of seventies parties, to be replaced by Pringles. The art on the walls is replaced with modern images and we learn of Abi’s boyfriend of several months who she has yet to meet as the friendship and conversation have all taken place electronically! In some ways she is no different from her grandmother at fifteen on the verge of adulthood and sexually aware, but the pressures and influences have changed.

Her relationship with her mother Patti, named after rocker Patti Smith, is strained and there are tired old jokes about the accountant that she became and married. However the mystery is who was Patti’s father and why does Abi have a stronger affinity with Abigail than Patti? 

The production is set in the same room set of the seventies play and reference
is made to the brown and orange wallpaper that was “never a good look” but it does feel a bit of a compromise as the logic of why Abigail moved into this house next door to her mother’s house and in forty years never changed the wallpaper, or why they are packing up the contents while she lies ill in hospital as a relatively young 55 year old is never explained properly.

This was a very clever idea, called RETOLD, developed by Sarah Bingham who also directs the piece. She tales a piece of classic theatre and creates a new companion piece as a female response to the original plays. It in itself justifies reviving the original rather dated play ( see separate review) , adds to our interest and enjoyment and uses it as a springboard to create a new piece that resonates with today’s audiences and comments on modern life. It may not be as polished writing as the original or as enduring but I enjoyed it more than the revival for both its modern observations and its speculation on the events that took place in the original Abigail’s Party.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row E | Price of Ticket: £10
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