What’s the word for when something just works? When you find a bag that perfectly matches your shoes, or you make every green light on your way to work, or you discover the perfect synergy of someone’s least favourite chocolate being your favourite, and vice versa, meaning that you can get rid of the underwhelming soft centres and enjoy all the toffee-filled goodness your heart desires. Whatever that word is, it’s how I felt about last night’s production of Abigail’s Party at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. The casting, the performances, the staging, the design – everything just worked, coming together to create a glorious night of theatre.
I’d never been to the Park Theatre before but will definitely be back. Last night’s performance took place in the smaller of the spaces there with just 90 seats, but I really enjoyed the attention that was given to the setting. The audience sits at right-angles and so too does the action on the stage (so no bad seat) and every inch of space is utilised. The set is a sight to behold – the play first graced the stage in 1977 and the 70s décor was so reminiscent of my dear departed grandparents’ house that I half expected to see one of their ornaments adorning the shelves. The show opens with Beverly (Kellie Shirley) dancing around her living room preparing for a party she’s hosting for new neighbours, strong, silent Tony (Matt Di Angelo) and chatty, impressionable Angela (Emma Noakes). Beverly’s frantic and furious husband, Laurence, is perfectly portrayed by Ryan Early and Barbara D’Alterio is fantastic as reluctant yet polite guest Sue, another neighbour invited to the party while her teenage daughter Abigail hosts a soiree of her own down the road.
The simmering tension, resentment, jealousy and arrogance that play over out over the evening build perfectly as the drinks are poured and not supplemented with enough crisps and “cheesy pineapple ones”. Beverly considers herself to be worldly and cultured, sharing her gauche views and advice with the younger, more naïve and easily impressed Angela while flirting shamelessly with Angela’s husband Tony. He makes no effort to discourage the attention and seemingly grows more open to Beverly’s advances and increasingly yet subtly aggressive towards his wife as the evening wears on. The one-upmanship about supermarkets, cars and houses is overt but still as relevant as it’s ever been and could have been written yesterday. Less well-aged are the undertones of abuse – physical and emotional – that would occupy a very different headspace in a more modern production. Laurence and Beverly’s relationship is increasingly strained, and I could feel the embarrassment and desperation radiating from Laurence as he tries to maintain his dignity and present himself as a cultured intellectual, sharing views on Paris, art and classical music while effectively being cuckolded by his wife. The close proximity to the action adds to the discomfort you feel as an audience member, looking on as these suburban lives begin to unravel.
Abigail’s Party runs at the Park Theatre until 4th December. While it’s not the most Christmassy of productions it is sharp, funny, poignant and superbly acted, enjoyably nostalgic and familiar. A thoroughly enjoyable evening that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/abigails-party
Reviewer: Zoё Meeres
Reviewed: 11th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★