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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The play, which is set in suburbia, is a comedy of social mores and a study of three marriages, each of them problematic. Abigail of the title is never seen. She is a teenager, the daughter of a neighbour who is having her first unsupervised birthday party while five of her parents' generation gather for an informal drinks party in the home of Beverly (Elizabeth Berrington) and her realtor husband, Laurence (Jeremy Swift). The invited couple are the garrulous but kindly nurse, Angela (Rosie Cavaliero) and Tony (Steffan Rhodri) who barely bothers to disguise his boredom and animosity towards his wife. Into this gathering comes the anxious, middle class divorcee and mother of the partying Abigail, Susan (Wendy Nottingham). Plenty of alcohol later, the cracks appear and the marital facades start to crumble.
Beverly should be the most interesting character. She is predatory, effusive and opinionated but also vulnerable. She has married Laurence for the material life style his highly paid and highly stressful job provides. On her marriage, she says, "If I want anything, new makeup, new dress, new hairdo, he's very generous, the money is there . . . . but apart from that it's just boring." She is the architect of her own unhappiness, a deeply dissatisfied woman. Elizabeth Berrington delivers not her own interpretation of the role but largely an imitation of Alison Steadman as Beverley. The result is a harder edged Beverley whom we have trouble sympathising with when disaster strikes. Jeremy Swift is plausible as the harassed Laurence who tries to juggle his work with Beverley's relentless demands. The twittery Rosie Cavaliero is excellent as she falls into her slightly patronising but very funny, nursing role, ministering to Sue. Wendy Nottingham strikes the right note as Sue, the middle class woman who politely tries to answer Beverley's questions while uncomfortably distancing herself from her less refined neighbours. Steffan Rhodri's monosyllabic Tony seethes moodily at his wife's chatter and shows a potential for violence.
Jonathan Fensom's set recreates the egregious style of the Seventies, the vulgar padded leather suite, the awful brown swirls of the curtains, the bookcase with its book club leather bound volumes in Beverley's tasteless sitting room. David Grindley's direction offers no surprises in this homage to Mike Leigh. We laugh at Beverley's naif attempts at entertaining and her addiction to the romance of Demis Roussos. Although for many this evening is pure nostalgia, the pathos and spontaneity of the original is lost in the ridicule. We look forward to January 2003 and the opening of the new Hampstead Theatre with its commitment to presenting new writing of quality.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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