Review: A brilliantly observed comedy of British manners

Ruth MacCallum and Zoe Faithfull in Abigail's Party at The Loft
Ruth MacCallum and Zoe Faithfull in Abigail's Party at The Loft

Abigail’s Party, Loft Theatre, Leamington -until March 28

Why it should resonate still with audiences of all ages around the world is something of a mystery.

Maybe it’s because, as Mike Leigh once said, its not a play about them, it’s a play about us. In that case, let us be thankful for its wit, for beneath the ghastly faux pas the play is a relentless no holds barred battle of the sexes.

It comes from a time when women were beginning explore independence. They carp and whine at their boorish husbands, yet they depend on them to literally write the cheques and give permission for them to drive. These are lower middle-class women seeking to break free.

Ruth MacCallum’s portrayal of Beverly, the angry, sexually frustrated vamp, is acute. She is a little dictator in her suburban empire, who summons her neighbours to the drinks party from hell.

Andy MacCullum is her husband Laurence, worn out with work, who aspires to a level of refinement he can’t achieve.

Zoe Faithful delivers a perfectly nuanced performance as Angie, the clumsy none-too-bright neighbour who is married to Tony (Alex Comer), a nasty piece of work who missed his chance to become a professional footballer.

Then there’s Susan (Sue Wilkinson), frumpy worried and divorced, whose teenage daughter Abigail is having a wild party next door.

All are in one way or another, disappointed.

How do you stage a play that is so iconic? The Loft don’t try to make it anything other than what it is: a brilliantly observed comedy of British manners.

It’s a delight to watch, even if there is embarrassment beneath the laughs, and the audience identified and loved every minute of it.

What that says about us now would take a lot longer than this article to explain.

Rating 10/10

By Nick Le Mesurier