"Classic comedy of suburban manners"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 05/09/18

To open its 65th anniversary season the Queen’s has chosen a “fresh but faithful” revival of Mike Leigh’s excruciatingly close-to-home look at 70s life in “theoretical Romford”.
Lee Newby’s design captures the period perfectly, without being gaudy or cheap – Laurence’s taste rather than Beverly’s perhaps. Even the lava lamp is understated. A broad beige lounge, with upstage kitchen and the hall and stairs glimpsed off.
And the five familiar characters are beautifully drawn by a strong ensemble – again, no caricatures, their real suburban struggles always there behind the laughs.
Christopher Staines is Laurence Moss, the estate agent driven to an early grave by frustrations both domestic and professional – his crisis cleverly hinted at by distortions in the sound design [Ivan Stott] as he makes his defiant sandwich or suffers Demis Roussos. His Beverly – sharp, aggressively hospitable – is superbly done by Melanie Gutteridge, especially perhaps in the closing moments when her world falls apart. Their guests are the loud, gauche, insensitive Angela [Amy Downham], her monosyllabic hubby [Liam Bergin] and Abigail’s divorced mother Susan, [Susie Emmett] awkwardly sitting out the G&Ts and the cheesy pineapples as she frets about her daughter’s teenage friends at the rave down the road.
Douglas Rintoul’s production is finely wrought, with telling detail – Ange’s face as she listens to Beverly’s lipstick lecture, Sue’s reaction as the motorbike is mentioned. A masterly mood change at the end, too, leading to a carefully orchestrated chaotic climax: the cramp, the ambulance, Sue’s frantic phone-call.
The piece has always been popular – sometimes risking the Rocky Horror road, with audiences dressing the part. Traditionalists will miss Donna Summer’s Love to Love You – rights issues, we’re told – though Baccara’s disco I Can Boogie is an appropriate understudy.
Of course it wasn’t written as a period piece. In 1977 it was contemporary, if not exactly cutting edge. So it’s fitting that Hornchurch and Derby Theatre – one of the co-producers – commissioned a new piece, Abi, as a contemporary response. Atiha Sen Gupta’s hour-long monologue, directed by Sarah Brigham, puts a 2018 teenager centre stage. She’s Abigail’s grand-daughter, hosting a party in her nan’s house – 70s wallpaper. Abigail doesn’t appear in this play either – she’s dying in hospital – but she has clearly been a mentor and an inspiration to Abi, who talks with the audience about her ambitions, her boring accountant ‘rents, her playlist [“a party without music is just a meeting”], nominative determinism, sexting, snacks, and her online boyfriend Luke. Not hard to see where that plot strand is headed, but alongside the duplicate detail – the blue lips, the olives – there are darker, deeper references and resonances, and the redemptive ending is very powerful.
A great performance from Safiyya Ingar, effortlessly capturing the sassy, insecure young woman as she struggles with a young person’s world undreamed of in the 70s.
Definitely worth seeing both – the two parties are touring this autumn to Derby. Salisbury and Luxembourg, the other two co-producers, will host the 1977 original only.

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Michael Gray
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton
Sumptuous Hilary Mantel Tudor intrigue by Michael Gray
Pippin
Deliciously dark Stephen Schwartz revival by Michael Gray
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Sassy disco glam down under by Michael Gray
WILL or Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life
Shakespeare’s lost years intriguingly imagined by Michael Gray
Love’s Labour’s Lost
fleet-footed fun in 40s Hollywood by Michael Gray