There are some things you should never tamper with: the culinary combination of cheese and pineapple, the kaftan of Demis Roussos and Mike Leigh’s ‘Seventie’70s social satire Abigail’s Party.
Famously screened as a BBC Play For Today in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, this ruthlessly accurate and painfully funny observation of the pretensions of suburbia comedy became a classic and Alison Steadman’s performance as the frustrated and flirtatious housewife Beverly Moss is legendary.
So how could former EastEnder Hannah Waterman ever fill those saucy slingbacks? The answer is… very well. She brings a husky quality to the role of the hostess from hell in director Lindsay Posner ‘s revival.
The play opens in a lounge in Essex as Donna Summer is playing on the stereo. Amid the fibre-optic lamp, shag pile rug and candelabra, housewife Beverly is waiting for her workaholic estate agent husband Laurence to arrive home. They have invited their new neighbours Tony and Ang and Sue, a nervous divorcee whose 15-year-old punk daughter, Abigail, is throwing a party over the road.
You can feel the awkwardness as the neighbours make small talk, and the Mosses try and score social points over the others on their choice of supermarket and their taste in furniture.
Despite its underlying tone of sadness as two marriages unravel, Posner’s play scores high on the laughs. Waterman sways and shimmies in her green figure-hugging halter-neck dress, missing no opportunity to verbally slap her ineffectual husband Laurence, played by Martin Marquez in Boycie style.
As the former footballer on the receiving end of Beverly’s seductive suggestions, Samuel James is suitably monosyllabic, while Katie Lightfoot is all smiles and sufferance as his nurse wife Ang. In the middle of all this Emily Raymond’s simpering Sue is probably the greyest human being I’ve ever seen on stage and still have a pulse.
As the characters stagger to the dramatic climax, Abigail’s Party may score laughs on the nostalgic setting but its social commentary is as relevant in a modern setting.