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24 September 2014
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February 2005
Abigails' Party at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre
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Abigails' Party
by Mike Leigh


Tue 8th - Sat 12th Feb 2005
7.30pm

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By Alison Ireland

Described over the years as a 'savage satire on England's middle-class', 'cocktail party from hell', 'biting but witty' and 'a step back in time to the 70's - fibre optic lamps, coal-effect fires, soda-siphons, spider plants, sideboards and room dividers, the whole décor in orange, brown and avocado' the cocktail party which is 'Abigail's Party' continues to delight audiences periodically.

And it certainly is all of the above. This young cast bring out both the humour and the pathos of Mike Leigh's stereotypical '70s cocktail party play wonderfully well. Emma Jenkinson, now a welcome regular to the Oxford theatre circuit, is brilliantly bitchy as the hostess, Beverley while Tom Viita on his Oxford debut really brings Laurence out of his sometime shadows to play the tragic figure he really is. Serena Martin, uncouth yet wistful as the mousy Angela, accompanies her unwilling husband, the boorish Tony (David Cresswell), and the courteous nervous Susan, mother of the eponymous teenager Abigail, is played to perfection by Hannah Richards.

For the play has a deeper level below the scathing satire: it provides a near-tragic expose of the struggles of ordinary, incompatible people against the 70s tide of social mobility and class-consciousness. Beverley's guests all aspire to be things they cannot, for reasons out of their control: lack of the right education or the right upbringing has cast them up on the shore of that awful cocktail party. None shares the others' aspirations, and all are frustrated. Abigail, the never-seen 15 year old holding the 'freak-out' party across the road, still has her freedom and choice and is envied by Beverley and her guests. The title of the play, 'Abigail's Party' is the final defeat for Beverley's party, driving home the extent to which they are defined by their thwarted ambitions.

A production which to my mind surpasses the one which visited the Playhouse last year - pay it a visit!

The views expressed in these comments are those of the contributor's and not the BBC.

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