Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party was first broadcast on the BBC back in 1977 and although nearly 40 years have passed, this comedy is still razor sharp and Solihull Theatre Company delivered in style.
It was witty, funny, fast paced and bloody genius. It's hard to believe this is Katherine Allen's directorial debut, but it is safe to say she will undoubtedly do more if tonight is anything to go by.
Every entrance, exit and movement was so carefully thought out and if the hilarious quips weren't enough, it was the elongated, awkward silences that were so utterly fantastic. The audience relished in both and, although the script in many ways deals with rather trivial day-to-day things, it is the execution of each of the lines, and the astute characterisation that brings this show to life.
The audience was instantly brought into the world of the play with the fourth wall blown to pieces from the beginning. Nichola Willetts played the bold and brash Beverly to perfection, contrasting well to her exasperated husband, Laurence, exceptionally portrayed by Steve Hayes. Gradually, an eccentric selection of characters join them. Angela (Sophia Bailey) and Tony (James Gough) have just moved into the house down the road - Sophia Bailey was superb as Angela, every facial expression told a thousand words and the audience didn't miss one opportunity to laugh as she hopelessly attempted to make conversation. Meanwhile, James Gough may not have had that many lines to learn, he stole many a laugh with his one-word responses. Completing the cast was Helen Gibbs as the prim and proper Susan. From her very first entrance the audience were in stitches of laughter, her utter awkwardness spoke volumes and yet again, her facial expressions delighted.
The beauty of the play lies in the characterisation and STC delivered a masterclass in this. It was sheer perfection from beginning to end, not one comic moment was missed and it's sure to have left the audience laughing all the way home. It's just a shame it didn't enjoy a longer run.
As part of their 2016 season, Revels present the naturalistic classic courtroom drama Rough Justice. Narrating the intense tale of James Highwood's prosecution for the killing of his disabled child. In this production the audience become the jury and are addressed directly several times throughout the play. The plot continues, as do the outcomes and plot twists, and even though the outcome is finally revealed - Revels present it in such a way that allows the audience to continue to explore the morals of the story well after they leave the theatre.
Chris Cooper portrays the deteriorating, emotionally unstable character of James Highwood well, with further strong performances from his onstage prosecutor Paula Keogh who presented the cold-hearted and deceptive Margaret Casely particularly well. Additionally, Jayne Beecrafts's performance as Mr Highwood's wife, Jean Highwood - a rather mysterious role in the play - allowed for some real tension to be exploited. Aside from some exaggerated moments that could have done with some work to keep in with the extraordinary tension that the principal characters built up, the rest of the cast supported the story well.
Set and lighting was basic and provided a strong setting for the play, having said this there were some moments where the action was missing front lighting and actors were in darkness. With the incredible amount of tension built up by the talented principles, there is the opportunity to speed up the scene changes to help ensure the narrative isn't broken.
All in all, despite some line prompts, the overall piece was well presented and is easily one of the most thought-provoking dramas I've watched in a long time.
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