Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
This touring production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party opts for comedy rather than tragicomedy at the Opera House Manchester, losing a little depth in order to find more laughs
“Let’s get pissed”
I spotted at least two people dressed up as Beverly at this matinée of Abigail’s Party at Manchester’s Opera House, a sure sign of cult status for any play. But it also means that their particular version of it can be stuck in aspic, making it difficult for any new interpretation to break through one’s own pre-programmed laugh track, to offer up a new reading of an oh-so-familiar text.
Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Atiha Sen Gupta’s response piece Abi make for a stirring double bill at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
“Of all the decades to stuck in, the 1970s, really?!”
Yes sir, she can boogie. Rights issues may mean that Donna Summer has been replaced with Baccara but as Melanie Gutteridge’s Beverly shimmies around her front room, there’s a beautiful lightness and freedom to her that we never get to see again. For the neighbours are coming round, and her husband’s running late, and she’s no lagers in – the lot of a suburban social-climbing hostess sure ain’t an easy one, but not even she could predict how this evening will turn out.
Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party is surely to be considered a British classic. And as it is set in Romford, it makes great sense for Douglas Rintoul to stage it at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch (in co-production with Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg). And if there is a slight sense of reverence to this production – there are no great departures from the original – there’s something extremely satisfying in seeing it receive such loving treatment as here. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party / Abi, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”
There must be a market for a completely immersive version of Abigail’s Party– that said, there’s probably already been one in Edinburgh – but given how close Suba Das’ production brings us to the gin and cheese and pineapple in an ingenious in-the-round staging here, it might actually be too much to bear. Seated around David Woodhead’s brilliantly observed living room set design and the most lurid orange carpet you ever did see, there really is no escape from this most awkward of social occasions – Das dares us not to flinch not only from Abigail’s gaze but from that of the audience members around us whose presence equally cannot be ignored.
The play remains a classic – Natalie Thomas’ neurotic party host Beverly nails a voice that could crack glass and works in a satisfying amount of vulnerability in with the viciousness with which she flails as the party spirals out of control. Patrick Moy as her tense husband Laurence builds powerfully as his patience and small talk is worn increasingly thin and resentment finally explodes. Cary Crankson and Emily Head’s new neighbours are just as excruciatingly entertaining to watch – Crankson in particular standing out, rounding off a marvellously prolific year – and Jackie Morrison’s Sue completes the cast in gormless wonder. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Curve”
“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”
One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turnerare no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.
Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”
A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”
“Our nation’s culture. Not something you can actually read, of course.”
There’s something mildly amusing about the above quote, which refers to Shakespeare by the way, given the Bardathon currently going on at the Globe and beyond and it is one that I didn’t pick up the first time I sawAbigail’s Party. I’d never seen it before despite the Alison Steadman version being a cult classic and so the whole show was a revelation to me, especially in how dark it was given I’d assumed it was more of a comedy. That original review from this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory can be read here but it has now made the leap into the West End at the Wyndhams where it will run for the summer after it sold out at the Menier.
I don’t really have much more to add about the show second time round, except to say that the Wyndhams is a great fit for it, the sense of intimacy is still there as Beverly’s living room occupies a letterbox set on the larger stage and has brought with it all the beautifully observed period details. Performances remain sharp across the board, Natalie Casey really is excellent as the gin-soaked Ange, Andy Nyman oozes unreconstructed machismo as Laurence and Jill Halfpenny sweeps all before her as the acidic Beverly. Continue reading “Re-review: Abigail’s Party, Wyndhams”
“We’ve got whiskey, gin, vodka, whatever you like”
Whisper it quietly, but I’ve never actually seen Abigail’s Party. I came to Mike Leigh rather late and carrying so much cultural baggage and expectation with it, it’s never been a film I’ve felt a particular inclination to take in. So when the Menier Chocolate Factory announced it was producing a revival of the play, it didn’t really register on my radar of things that I needed to see. But excellent word-of-mouth and general expressions of shock that I’d never seen it before encouraged me to book a ticket when a chance visit to the theatre’s website offered up a return for sale.
Jill Halfpenny takes on Beverly, the role iconically made famous by Alison Steadman (I know that much at least) and though it is her outrageous ‘fantasticness’ that forms a large part of the play and the excruciating comedy it contains, it remains thoroughly a Mike Leigh piece at heart. So painful marital discord abounds and if the prevailing tone is comedic, it is piercingly dark and cutting. For someone watching it for the first time, I didn’t find it half as funny as nearly everyone around me. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”