Tag Archives: Sarah Esdaile

Abigail’s Party
reviewed in Norwich on 27 March

Mike Leigh’s play about the residents of a suburban London enclave is now 40 years old. Each revival brings a new and appreciative audience as well as returning admirers, ths proving that this particular social satire is one for all decades and all generations.

We may not want to acknowledge it aloud, but most of us can number at least a couple of Leigh’s characters in our aquaintance. Which is not bad going when you realise that there are only five people on stage, plus of course the offstage teenaged Abigail, who is throwing her increasingly boisterous parent-free party a few doors away.

Queen bee and lynch-pin of the whole affair is Beverly, a wife so mesmerised by her own two-dimensional façade that other people only exist to reflect her appearance, her tastes in music, home décor and social entertaining. Amanda Abbington has the measure of the part; from the moment we glimpse her arranging the room for her drinks party through the windows of Janet Bird’s dolls’ house set, Abbington presents the whole woman.

Dressed in a totally unsuitable white pleated dress, constantly slithering off one shoulder, Beverly makes a god job of upstaging first new neighbour Angela (Charlotte Mills), a nurse whose slightly too-girlish dress only accentuates her comfortable plumpness. Ciarán Owens is Frank, the disenchanted former footballer now computer operator who is natural prey for Beverly.

Both Rose Keegan as middle-class divorcée Susan, doing her best to bring up Abigail and Jeremy with some support from her architect ex-husband, suggests the woman who would love to put Beverly back in her proper place but is too polite to force the issue. when she does do so it is completely ineffectual.

You can see why Ben Caplan’s work-obsessed estate agent Laurence might find in Susan a more congenial spirit than in wife Beverly, though even he tries too hard and too obviously to clamber onto her guarded wavelength. Caplan times Laurence’s develpment as the evning wears on very subtly, from “heard it all before” mild irritation to the downright irascibility as the play reaches its climax.

Sarah Esdaile is the director for this Theatre Royal Bath Productions tour. Bird’s co-designers are Mic Pool (sound, which is very cleverly graduated as the evening wears on) and Paul Pyant (lighting). Blending deliberate articiality with the right degree of realism is a harder visual and audible task than an audience might imagine. I suspect that Abigail will be still throwing her party forty years from now. This production certainly doesn’t impede that progress.

Four and a half-star rating.

Abigail’s Party
runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 1 April with matinées on 29 March and 1 April. It can also be seen at the Cambridge Arts Theatre between 10 and 15 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Talking Heads

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 17 August)

Alan Bennett’s monologues grouped under the title Talking Heads introduces us to two very different women and a mother-fixated man. All three are set in their long-established ways; for each this rigid path leads to an almost-inevitable measure of self-destruction.

The interest lies in how the dénouement for each character we meet comes about. It has something of the inevitability of classical tragedy as we watch how a character trait, a personality flaw or just the sheer inability to accept that change does and will occur moulds each story. Yes, for the most part we can see what will happen – but Bennett has a whole hand of master-cards up his sleeve.

Sarah Esdaile’s production cannot escape the piece’s 1988 television roots, though her slightly fidgety staging keeps each person firmly in that period. Francis O’Connor’s sets, atmospherically lit by Paul Pyant, combine naturalism with a touch of distortion – just as Miss Ruddock, Doris and Graham themselves live in a world whose distortion is as much of their own making as that provided by outside events and people.

All three actors are perfectly cast, especially Siobhan Redmond as Miss Ruddock; the second part of her story is a revelation in more than one sense. Karl Theobald has the measure of Karl, teetering on the edge of infantilism as he gauges the outside world through low-level porn magazines and his distorted view of his mother and his relationship with her.

Stephanie Cole is hear-breaking as Doris, so determined to stay in her own, now loo large home and to resist any attempt to cajole her into the sort of residential care which she (most probably correctly) sees as a short cut to the cemetery. Too proud to accept or call for help in the right circumstances and at the right time, she learns that being mistress of her fate is not necessarily as empowering as it seems.

Talking Heads runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 22 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015