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One might have expected this 35-year-old Mike Leigh play to have aged, but surprisingly it seems to have matured – with 70’s nostalgia and retro style now an added bonus!

Given millions have seen the TV version, it probably needs little by means of description. Beverly & Laurence have invited new neighbours Angela & Tony around for drinks and nibbles (cheese and pineapple, obviously – this is 1977). They’ve also invited a more long-serving neighbour Susan, who’s teenage daughter Abigail (subject of the play’s title, but an offstage character) is throwing a party in her home. A lot is drunk, Beverly mercilessly nags Laurence & flirts with shy Tony as Anglea watches and Susan frets. Abigail’s party gets out of hand, as does Beverly’s as it moves to its tragi-comic conclusion.

Though still dark, this production seems much funnier. Perhaps familiarity has meant we are less shocked and more prepared to laugh out loud as grotesque Beverly’s hospitality morphs into control, Laurence’s  drive becomes his downfall, Tony reveals a darkness beneath his nerdiness, dull Angela proves to be the only one who’s useful when it comes to the crunch and frumpy Susan eventually fights back. It really is deliciously laugh-out-loud funny with an equal measure of cringe-making moments, all impeccably staged by Lindsay Posner (who proved himself a master of comedy with the current Noises Off revival) on a brilliant period set from Mike Britton – all shades of brown, orange & beige; G-Plan shelf units and leather sofas.

Alison Steadman’s iconic characterisation is a hard act to follow, but Jill Halfpenny’s partial reinvention of Beverly is subtly different whilst retaining the essence of the icon; she commands the stage as she does her soiree. Andy Nyman is the perfect foil, his sniping moving to rage as his wife’s put-downs become more open and more outrageous. Joe Absolom’s controlled performance as Tony means his eruptions shake the theatre when they come. Some have said that Natalie Casey is the weak link in the casting, but I was pleasantly surprised by her interpretation of Angela. Susannah Harker’s role is in many ways the toughest, but hers too is a beautifully judged performance.

It’s great to see the Menier back on form, packed to the rafters and awash with laughter. I’d be surprised if this isn’t another West End transfer for this lovely powerhouse in Southwark.

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