Friday, 11 October 2019

COMMUNITY THEATRE REVIEW: Abigail's Party - The YMCA, Bolton.


Having previously appeared in a version of this seminal 1970's play (as Laurence), I was particularly looking forward to seeing the show and I'm delighted to say that I wasn't disappointed. The theatre space at the YMCA has only just been opened and I was told later that Square Pig Productions, who were staging the play, that there are plans afoot to install raked seating in the very near future. There is no curtain so when you walked into the space, you were immediately presented with a lovingly recreated suburban living room full of paraphernalia of the period - a large drinks cabinet housing all the important alcohol plus the complete works of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, matching block like armchairs, a centre piece sofa, lava lamp and so on. Hats off to the props and wardrobe teams. 

The action starts when Beverley (Sharon Shaw) walks into the lounge to check everything is just right and ready to receive guests. She smokes constantly, puts on one of her favourite records and pours herself a drink. This is clearly HER domain and she rules the roost. As we find out later, she loves Demis Roussos, much to the annoyance of classical-music-loving (and put-upon) husband Laurence (Paul Cohen). He arrives home and angers Beverley when he has to make 2 important work calls instead of getting himself bathed and ready for the party. Soon, the other 3 guests arrive - Angela (Ruth Syddall) and husband Tony (Paul Ward) along with neighbour Sue (Catherine Henderson) whose teenage daughter Abigail, whom we never meet, is holding her own house party. 

Angela, wearing a light blue dress and oversized glasses she keeps having to push back onto her nose, is well meaning but rather dim. She states she and Tony have given up smoking but ends up having a cigarette or two anyway! Tony is a man of few words and only really comes alive when invited to slow dance with Beverley. There is a clear sexual frisson between him and the "hostess with the mostest". Sue is socially awkward and is uncomfortable, especially when being asked questions about her personal life, and is constantly worried about what's happening at Abigail's Party. She doesn't want to drink but is powerless to stop her glass being refilled! There is a LOT of drinking and smoking in the play and the cast did well to keep up with all this to-ing and fro-ing in amongst the small talk and lightly sprinkled oneupmanship. Laurence is sent out to get more alcohol - light ale and lagers - but comes back to get Tony's help with starting his car. Beverley is very pleased with the bottle of wine given to her by Angela and this is where we hear the famous line ('ooh, Beaujolais, I'll just pop that in the fridge')! As the action wears on, the tension between Laurence and Beverley ramps up and Sue gets progressively drunk, with the inevitable consequences. 

The second half starts with Sue returning to the lounge after being unwell but I'm not going to say much more about the plot so I won't spoil it if you go to watch this production made most famous by Alison Steadman in the lead role. Suffice is to say that all 5 cast members have worked extremely hard over the rehearsal period. They delivered a performance which has pace, but with enough awkward silences when no one knows what to say next without putting their foot in it! 

This production is thoroughly recommended and is on again tonight (Fri 11th) and tomorrow. Thanks to Natalie Crompton and the team at Square Pig for their kind hospitality and welcome.

Reviewer - David Swift
on - 10/10/19

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