Abigail’s Party

Written by Mike Leigh
Directed by David Grindley
Liverpool Playhouse, 1-6 March 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Spring 1977. The economy is in crisis, there are strikes up and down the country, and punk is in full swing. In suburban London, the monstrous Beverly decides to host a party, complete with pineapple chunks, gin and tonic, and the slushy strains of Demis Roussos. Her guests are at turns bewildered, petrified and angry as the alcohol flows and the masks fall. Regrets are aired, secrets are revealed, and the party gradually descends into chaos.

Mike Leigh’s comedy was a big hit in the late seventies, enjoying successful runs on the London stage and a BBC-produced studio version was viewed by 16 million! But it seems the original cast gave the writing much of its spark, and this version pales in comparison. A couple of the actors - particularly Lizzy McInnerny as Beverly - make a decent fist of emulating their seventies counterparts (maybe even trying too hard), but they still fail to match the performances of Alison Steadman, Tim Stern and co.

On the other hand, the script is as funny as ever, so if you’re feeling nostalgic for Donna Summer, stuffed olives, and knowing - for which read dreading - your neighbours, then there are far worse things with your evening. Like throw an excruciating dinner party, for example.