Jodie Prenger shines in a deliciously uneasy Abigail's Party on Northampton stage

Jodie Prenger as Beverly and Calum Callaghan as Tony
Jodie Prenger as Beverly and Calum Callaghan as Tony

Steve Mills reviews Abigail's Party at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Get the white wine warming nicely, put some Demis Roussos on the record player and prepare those peculiar cheese and pineapple sticks. It can mean only one thing - the touring version of Abigail’s Party, which was a delightfully pleasant affair.

Beverley and husband Laurence are throwing a party for their newlywed neighbours, Tony and Angela. Joining them is highly strung Susan who’s been banished from the party of her teenage daughter Abigail. As tensions rise and tempers flare the sheen of respectability is torn away by the warring couples with hilarious and potentially disastrous consequences.

My previous experience of Mike Leigh’s seminal work was hazily remembering watching the original while I was at university probably while consuming the same amount of alcohol as Beverley, and a later touring production which was unfortunately sub-par.

But I was delighted that my fears were unfounded as it was a superb ensemble packed with dark uneasy humour.

The charming Jodie Prenger is clearly relishing playing the part of Beverley with a deliciously overt sexuality while making sure the character is the monster that we remember fondly from Alison Steadman’s portrayal.

It’s a tour de force from Prenger but at no point does she outshine her companions on stage. Daniel Casey gives life, humour and a general weariness to Laurence while newlyweds Angela and Tony, played by Vicky Binns and Calum Callaghan with plenty of politeness but more than a hint of danger in their relationship.

In many ways, the part of Sue could perhaps be the least interesting, but Rose Keegan gives it plenty of polite Englishness in spite of the horrid line of questioning from the guests.

There is a lot to like about this production with a set that draws the audience into the drama and the narrowing of space which adds a claustrophobic dramatic element to the production.

It would be easy to have this as a straight piece but by everyone giving it a just the slightest hint of melodrama, it makes the whole thing a much richer experience and one with both laughter and drama in equal measure.

* Abigail’s Party can be seen at Royal & Derngate in Northampton until Saturday March 9. Tickets for the show can be booked by calling the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk

The show can also be seen at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre from Monday to Saturday March 18 to 23. Tickets for the dates can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7607 or visit www.atgtickets.co.uk/aylesbury