This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 5 October 2018.
Derby Theatre’s RETOLD plays are a series of one-woman responses to classic plays – a direct challenge to a mostly-male canon, a decisive move to commission work from female playwrights, and an invitation to audiences who don’t usually book tickets for new writing. It’s a two-interval night if you see Abigail’s Party and Abi back to back, but I’d definitely recommend doing it that way. The two plays are too tangled up together for me to imagine seeing one without the other.
First up is Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s portrait of social-climbing suburbia. Although it’s a slow mover to start with, once things get going it’s a tense, crackly play that carefully holds back each blow until the last possible moment. It’s not at all what I expected, having once sat through a student version that went for full-blown farce. It’s definitely laugh-out-loud funny, but the jokes are sharp and awkward; it’s a highly-strung glimpse of the 70s, but it also feels uncomfortably familiar and close.