Review: Abigail’s Party at Harrogate Theatre

Tuesday 13th September 2022 at Harrogate Theatre.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Harrogate Theatre’s Rep Company are back with three plays over three weeks and they’re off to a flying start with their take on Abigail’s Party.

As a sit-com taking aim at the minefield that is a polite social gathering with strangers, this play is full of golden observational humour which also unmasks the darker side of getting to know your neighbours. Mike Leigh’s fabulous writing has small details gain big laughs time and again, and finds the hilarity in the relationship dynamics we all navigate in life. You’ll find yourself identifying your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances on stage – and if you don’t? Well, you know what that means…

Production designer Geoff Gilder whisks us back to the 70’s with a great backdrop of tat and gadgets from the era: lava lamp, record player, fibre optic lamp and a tipple bureau which forms a good percentage of the hosts’ personality.

Marcus Romer’s direction taps into the importance of inaction and knowingly allows the most seemingly mundane moments to blossom into their full comic impact. Yet while this is a very rich domestic comedy, it also offers glimpses of real issues behind closed doors, when the socialising mask slips for a moment and we are invited to speculate about whether what we see is the drink talking or truth finally spilling out.

Hostess Beverley dominates in every sense of the word and Katy Dean is tireless in her pursuit of laughs: bravely holding a pause just long enough; drawling that “greeeeat” just vacantly enough; dancing just about badly enough; gurning just about deeply enough. Robin Simpson is the uptight, hen-pecked husband running out of patience with his posturing wayward wife and he brilliantly captures the silent rage of the nit-picked man.

Neighbours new to the street are Angela (Faye Weerasinghe) and Tony (Paul Hawkyard). Weerasinghe achieves a green character which somehow incorporates the best of Dibley’s Alice and every eager youngster trying to prove themselves. Hawkyard’s take on the monosyllabic Tony is a thing of quiet skill, often getting the biggest laugh for the smallest possible line. Completing the lineup is poor divorcee Sue (Janine Mellor), who has been exiled from her own home by teen daughter Abigail who is throwing a party. Again, Mellor finds laughter in the silences and the monosyllabic responses, achieving hilarity from mere reaction as much as anything else.

The fact that this production is the product of just one week of rehearsal is incredibly impressive because it is a fine-tuned piece with very sure-footed performances. With this kind of writing and this cast in place, Abigail’s Party is a great way to spend an evening – and if the laughter around me throughout is anything to go by, I’m not alone in my verdict!

Abigail’s Party plays Harrogate Theatre until September 17th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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