Saturday, 24 March 2018

Abigail’s Party, March 22, 2018 ****

By Mike Leigh, by Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until April 21, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri March 23, 2018 & later in print. KH
Zoe Boesen, Katherine Tonkin, Pip Edwards-MTC ABIGAIL'S PARTY photo Jeff Busby
The booze pours faster, lips get looser and the flirting more outrageous in Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh's acerbic, 1970s satire about London's middle class, and, by the end, you could cut the desperation with a knife.

It is circa 1977 in London, and saucy Beverly (Pip Edwards) plays hostess at her ill-conceived drinks party attended by her resistant husband, Laurence (Daniel Frederiksen), new neighbours, twitty Angela (Zoe Boesen) and her monosyllabic husband, Tony (Benjamin Rigby), and divorced mum, Sue (Katherine Tonkin).

Leigh's original play was wildly successful on British stage and television, and although written 40 years ago, his larger-than-life characters and their achingly awkward relationships at this boozy party seem strangely relevant today.

Set in a garish, 1970s, orange shag pile conversation pit (design, Anna Cordingley), Stephen Nicolazzo’s production of this audacious tragicomedy highlights the grotesquery of Leigh’s broadly comical characters as they embarrass themselves, and humiliate, bully or seduce each other.

Leigh developed his scripts through improvisation with his cast, and the depth and quirkiness of each character in Abigail’s Party is testament to the effectiveness of this method of playwriting.

Edwards is both repellent and oddly sympathetic as the grinning, flirtatious but desperate hostess, Beverly, who bosses her guests into having fun as she sloshes alcohol into glasses, and writhes about like a tormented cat.

Beverly and husband, Laurence, snipe at each other with nasty jibes or blatant criticism, and Frederiksen effectively captures Laurence’s social clumsiness and his aspirational but fumbling interest in the highbrow arts.

Boesen’s twitty but well-meaning Angela is eagerly agreeable, under-confident, and mercilessly bullied by her seemingly harmless husband.

Rigby’s Tony is initially reserved until he downs enough booze to give him sufficient confidence to slaver over Beverly and snap at his wife.

Tonkin gains our sympathy as beleaguered Sue, the well-spoken, unremittingly polite divorcee who seems keen to leave but can’t, because her teenage daughter, Abigail, has taken over Sue’s home to have a loud party.

Beverly and her guests appear to yearn for Abigail’s party because it embodies all the youthful fun and sensuality they no longer experience.

Abigail's Party is hilarious, uncomfortable and depressingly familiar in its depiction of ugly suburbia that seems to have changed so little in four decades.

By Kate Herbert

Zoe Boesen (The Moors), Pip Edwards (Ghosts), Daniel Frederiksen (Matilda: The Musical), Benjamin Rigby (Alien: The Covenant) and Katherine Tonkin

Director Stephen Nicolazzo

Set Designer Anna Cordingley

Costume Designer Eugyeene Teh

Lighting Designer Katie Sfetkidis

Composer & Sound Designer Daniel Nixon

Voice & Dialect Coach Geraldine Cook-Dafner

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