Theatre review: Abigail's Party, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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This early comedy by Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake) unfolds as if David Brent from The Office had turned into a female beauty therapist and decided to have the neighbours around for drinks. While this production doesn't turn up the awkward ante to full over two and a half hours (including intermission), there is a little trainwreck frisson near the end. Particularly, perhaps, for that generation of audience who will see echoes of their own 1970s - marrying in haste and repenting at leisure - played out across the stage.

There is a touch of Harold Pinter's exploration of neurotic suburban status-anxiety here, but in place of Pinter's complexity, extremity and surreality, Leigh sticks with naturalism and punts broad swipes. The criticism of covetous materialism is not subtle. A guest admires a table. "Expensive, actually!" coos hostess Beverly (Andi Crown).

Other cultural knowledge is lost in non-translation: older neighbour Sue turns up expecting dinner because she is middle class, whereas the two couples have already had "tea" because they are lower-middle class.

A 1970s British audience would get this, but we, of course, didn't.

Much relies on the performers drawing out underlying tensions and shifting alliances. Simon Vincent as host Laurence hints at this beautifully, going into a brown study in his orange lounge with intense expressions as masterful as his moustache. Sophie Roberts is particularly natural as ingénue Angela, and makes up for the static bodies with an animated, mobile face behind thick glasses.

Andi Crown's Beverly is a vision in apricot with matching bronze nail polish - her seducing cha-cha across the shag pile in gold heels is a period ambience highlight.

Some nuances of character are left unexplored, and the array of made-up accents is wild, but Sam Snedden does a reasonable job on his directorial debut.

Apart from a bottle shop bag in plastic not paper, the realist set and costumes are near perfect. Go along after a drink or two, and enjoy watching them imbibe a drink or ten.

What: Abigail's Party
Where: Basement Theatre, Grey's Ave, to September 21

- NZ Herald

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