I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
Back to the '70s
I last saw Jodie Prenger on stage two years ago in Shirley Valentine at The Alexandra. That was a one-woman tour de force by the winner of BBC TV's I'd Do Anything, and I thought Jodie couldn't get any better. But as Beverley in the touring revival of Abigail's Party she raises the bar again. Her portrayal of the flirty, supposedly upwardly mobile suburban housewife who foists her beliefs, her gin and tonic, her cigarettes and her cheese and pineapple nibbles on neighbours gathered at her home for a cocktail party, is larger than life and over the top. It's also very funny, so much so that when the play's darker undertones reveal themselves, the audience is unsure whether to laugh or sympathise.
Nibbles?: Jodie Prenger serves cheese and pineapple to Calum Callaghan
First performed on stage in 1977, Abigail's Party reached a mainstream audience thanks to a BBC television broadcast with Alison Steadman as Beverley. This new version is faithful to its 1970's origin – the clothes, hairstyles and home furnishing all bring back memories! It's also worth noting that fashions such as vinyl records and indoor cheese plants are now back in vogue.
The show begins with Beverley dancing alone to Donna Summer's Love to Love You Baby as she waits for her soiree guests to arrive. We meet Laurence, her husband, played by Daniel Casey. Best known as the mild-mannered DS Gavin Troy in Midsomer Murders, Daniel is here transformed into an uptight estate agent, seemingly under the thumb of overbearing Beverley.
Dance: Jodie Prenger grooves to Donna Summer
The first guests to arrive are new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and her husband, Tony (Calum Callaghan). Vicky – Ollie Reynolds in Emmerdale and Molly Dobbs in Coronation Street – is a joy as we see Beverley attempt to bond with, then manipulate, Angela. Calum, who has appeared in Mr Selfridge and Torchwood, is a little more one-dimensional as Tony, who obviously doesn't like small talk and appears to possess a violent streak. Strangely, the character is also a former professional footballer.
Talking of strange, the third and final guest is divorced single mum Sue (Rose Keegan) who has been invited because her daughter, Abigail, is holding a party at her house. I'm not sure what to make of Sue – she appears uptight, withdrawn and mousey, and her monosyllabic responses to questions are both fascinating and infuriating, but I'm left with the feeling that she could be the sanest of them all.
Soiree: Rose Keegan, Daniel Casey and Vicky Binns (seated) try to ignore Jodie Prenger and Calum Callaghan
Considering that much of the play is static, with characters simply standing or sitting, talking about things of seemingly little consequence, the time flies by. This is due to, as well as excellent cast performances, the remarkable writing of Mike Leigh, who tweaked his original script for this new version. Great writing simply never goes out of fashion.
Abigail's Party 2019 UK tour dates:
Until Jan 26: The Alexandra, Birmingham; Jan 28 - Feb 2: Grand Opera House, York; Feb 4 - 9: Theatre Royal, Glasgow; Feb 11 - 16: Nuffield Theatre, Southampton;
Feb 18 - 23: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent;
Feb 25 - Mar 2: New Victoria Theatre, Woking;
Mar 4 - 9: Derngate Theatre, Northampton;
Mar 18 - 23: Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury;
Apr 8 - 13: Opera House, Manchester;
Apr 16 - 20: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh.