A party ends the summer season

Abigail’s Party, by Mike Leigh, The Jill Freud Company, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until August 28 and St Edmunds Hall, Southwold, August 31 – September 11

This classic satire overflows with amusing lines and situations but paints a rather bleak portrait of human nature.

The role of self-centred Beverly, a monster rampaging through a tired, childless marriage, was made famous by Alison Steadman and in this production Rebecca Raybone gives a highly skilled impersonation; which is true of all the actors in this excellent cast. For the play and its characters are so well defined it is difficult to find any scope for freshness.

And perhaps we should not seek innovation for, especially in the British psyche, there may be a greater need to just sit back and look into the mirror while enjoying the sheer brilliance of a playwright at the top end of the trade and a well-drilled cast bringing out all the nuances on offer.

The play is set in the 1970s. Beverly and her down-trodden, workaholic husband, Laurence (Jonathan Ashley) are entertaining neighbours - Angela and Tony, newcomers to the estate, and divorcee Sue, who has been obliged to leave her home while her 15-year-old daughter hosts a party.

As the alcohol flows so tensions rise leaving the anxious Sue in the uncomfortable midst of ugly marital disharmony. For Beverly is more interested in the largely monosyllabic, ex-professional footballer Tony (Ben Tillett) than Lawrence whom she cruelly derides as being dead from the waist down.

Angela, played superbly by Louise Shuttleworth, chatters on in the face of growing, alcohol fuelled contempt from her own, bullying husband.

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Pauline Whitaker gave an excellent under-stated performance as Sue, polite, educated and damaged, feeling out of place among her patronising neighbours, fearful of what is happening back at home.

I felt that the opening “line-less” scene-setting was a tad too long and that the hilarious/tragic ending needed building into more of a crescendo.

But characterisation and timing was top class throughout and the tensions between the couples were carefully built by the cast, directed by Richard Frost. A fine, polished production with which to bring the Southwold and Aldeburgh summer theatre season to an end.

David Green

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