Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

abigail top

Helen Tippins as Beverley, Katherine Jones as Angela, Sarah Colloby as Sue, Tony Childs as Laurance and John Lines as Tony

Abigail’s Party

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


MIKE Leigh’s dark comedy dissecting the social mores and aspirations of 1970’s London suburbia still strikes a chord of recognition with audiences.

We can all identify the characters or at least some of their traits in individuals we know – we are dealing with real people here, and STAC has found an excellent cast to make this party go with a real swing.

The plot is simple, Angela and Tony, played by Katherine Jones and John Lines, have just moved in to 16 Richmond Road, so Beverley, at No 13, has invited them round for a friendly meet the neighbours with her estate-agent husband Laurence and has also invited Sue, a divorcee from No 9.

Sue, played by Sarah Colloby, was divorced three years ago -  about the same time the other two couples were getting married as was kindly pointed out to her. Her daughter, Abigail, aged 15, is having a party, which can be heard down the street and which would be fine until Beverley and Ange point out as many worst-case scenarios as they can think of.

Helen Tippins gives a stellar performance as chain-smoking Beverley, ex-department store beauty saleswoman, who is the dominant force in any party; flighty and blousy, sexy in an in your face sort of way - ask Tony -and she seems to see marriage as merely a required qualification for adultery as she flirts unashamedly and openly with Tony as the evening progresses. Whether to annoy Laurence or with a different purpose we never find out.

She is used to getting her own way on everything and manaAnge and Bevereleyges to manipulate everyone into agreeing with her – often against husband Laurence – and won’t take no for an answer which means Sue has many more gin and tonics than she wanted, with the predictable result, and Ange and Tony, who have given up smoking are back on the fags by mid evening.

Katherine Jones and Helen Tippins produce a wonderful double act as Angela and Beverley.

Tony has entered into the spirit of the evening with all the enthusiasm of the guest of honour at a funeral. He could not make it clearer that he really does not want to be there. He is an ex-footballer and is now in computers – but only a mere computer operator as wife Ange insists on telling everyone. Katherine Jones Ange is a brilliant foil for Tippins Beverley incidentally as their characters slowly demolish the gin bottle.

Ange is a nurse, and shows she is competent and professional in that when it matters. It is just in the rest of her life where she struggles as a somewhat tactless and none-to-bright, gormless individual who revels in the mundane and trivial.

Laurence is an estate agent aspiring to finer things with Van Gogh and Lowry prints on the wall, gold embossed volumes of the complete works of Dickens and a leather-bound complete works of Shakespeare – which he tells us “can’t be read” indicating it is the signs of culture rather than culture itself which is important. He arrives home as Beverley’s soiree is about to start needing to go out again for work and you suspect his passion for work is compensation for a bickering marriage where passion is in short supply.

Unlike Beverley he likes art, classical music and literature, although she claims her tastes are just as good as his, and the pair seem to live permanently on the verge of argument which becomes open warfare as the evening wears on.

But theirs is not the only skirmish as the quiet Tony lashes out at Ange and even Sue, who to this point has seemed the normal one, the bastion of sensible middle class respectability, finally snaps at Abigail and her party.

Tony Childs has not only taken on the role of Laurence but has also directed, assisted by Keith Thompson and Janet Bright and between them they have built up the slowly rising tension between all the laughs as we see the real relationships begin to surface from beneath the middle class veneer.

Designer Rog Melhuish, utilising a fine set hired from Peterborough Operatic and Dramatic Society, also deserves some credit for the lovely 70’s touches such as the twin cassette music centre (younger readers ask parents or grandparents what a cassette was), fibre optic lamp, and that height of 70’s party sophistication, the cheese and pineapple hedgehog, with skewered delicacies on toothpicks stuck into a half grapefruit. Those with real class and style added a silverskin onion as well.

And amid that culinary treat you are also given a recipe for pilchard curry – which Tony, strange as it may see, doesn’t like along with music from the likes of Demis Roussos, Elvis and Beethoven in a battle of the bands.

With such a splendid, professional quality production, it is a pity more people were not there to see it. Catch it before it ends on Saturday, 31, October.

Roger Clarke


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