Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 17 July, 2002

**** Excellent final production in the old Hampstead "Portakabin"

The Hampstead's final show before moving to new premises up the road is a revival of what is possibly its greatest hit. And it still works.

The first three laughs are for period light fittings, the fifth for the music that hostess Beverly puts on her music centre, and the fourth (incredibly) for the crackle of a vinyl LP. It feels at first as if a 2002 audience might be responding to David Grindley's production merely as a piece of period camp. And the 1977 design is excellent, from the furnishings to the punk music we hear supposedly wafting up from the other party (Abigail's) down the road.

But gradually we realise that the play works so much more deeply and potently. It was the making of Mike Leigh, not because it is a savage satire on clumsy upward mobility, but because it shows the exquisite agony behind all too many marriages. Leigh never pokes fun from outside; he gets to the heart, and lays it bare. The furniture or the tastes might be different, but at the core these people are us.

Elizabeth Berrington, playing Beverly, is (I predict) about to make it big as a first-rate performer in the kind of roles that combine winces of embarrassment with disturbed sympathy. But all five actors are fine, and a play that has become a milestone of British drama is done full justice on its silver jubilee.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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