"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.

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