Saturday, 2 March 2019

REVIEW: Abigail’s Party at New Victoria Theatre, Woking

It became very apparent rather quickly at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre I was one of only a handful of millennials there. The audience was dominated by significantly older generations, which is unsurprising given the success of Abigail’s Party in the 1970’s when it was popularised in a TV Mini-Series starring Alison Steadman.

In a cast of five, we see the joys of hosting a party in suburbia for those you don’t really know all that well. Lead by the outrageously pushy Beverley, her husband Laurence and their guests are plied with alcohol and nibbles throughout the evening as they aim to distract neighbour Sue from the shenanigans happening just down the road at her house while her daughter Abigail hosts a party of her own…

The set is simple – one stereotypically dated living room prepared for a party – decorated with a fibre-optic UFO light, vinyls, cube-patterend glassware, cigarette boxes and the holy grail of a 1970’s party: half a raw potato wrapped in tin foil with cocktails sticks of tinned pineapple and unnaturally yellow cheese cubes. That living room would have been the envy of my grandmother who loved to host her Tupperware parties back in the day, but to the modern eye it is truly heinous as I would hope set designer Janet Bird intended!

Leading this cast as the hostess-with-the-mostess is Jodie Prenger whose portrayal of Beverly is over-exaggerated to-the-max. Prenger’s performance was consistently strong throughout thanks to her wonderful comic timing (albeit it took me a while to warm to the voice she’s adopted for this role). Her co-stars have some moments of their own to enjoy but there’s no arguing this is Prenger’s show.

I was left unfulfilled by Abigail’s Party as it struck me as unclear in its execution – it’s like an attempt at satire that somehow manages to takes itself too seriously. The first 45-minutes were incredibly slow… It took far too long to get going but when it did, even that was anti-climactic. The jokes were greeted not so much with laughs but merely exhalations through the nose. 

It may have just been first-night jitters at Woking but unfortunately Mike Leigh’s
script showed its age and jokes fell flat. Moments that could have been amped up for stronger laughs didn’t land; for example Ange and Tony can’t wait to show off regarding the purchase of their new house for “almost £22,000” and how wonderful it is Tony is “working with computers”. This whole conversation felt like a transition piece with limited effort to make the most of these jokes and it was disappointing to hear such reserved audience reaction. 

Abigail’s Party is far from stimulating and all-in-all disappoints, despite some moments worth giggling at. Overall, amidst all the wonderful theatre on tour and in residence around the country, this piece is out of its depth and lacks the quality you’ll see elsewhere. 

Abigail’s Party may have once been a big hit, but for a 2019 audience, it’s stale and lacking in flavour…

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★

Seat: Stalls E4 | Price of Ticket: £31.45
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