AND the show went on … “The show must go on” is one of the best known theatrical sayings, and it was never truer than at Bath Theatre Royal on the opening night of London Classic Theatre’s three day run of Abigail’s Party.
Ten minutes into the show, Rebecca Birch, who was playing the leading role of Beverly, had to leave the stage feeling unwell. When the house lights suddenly went up, the audience was at first thrown somewhat into confusion, wondering if this was a part of the play.
When a request to remain seated while a backstage problem was sorted out, was changed to a suggestion that the audience take a break while a rather more serious problem than was first envisaged was solved, all sorts of conspiracy theories were being discussed in the auditorium.
Backstage, frantic scenes were being played out as it became apparent that Rebecca Birch could not continue. With no understudies listed in the programme, the first thought must have been to cancel the performance, but a lifeline appeared in the form of producer/actress Kathryn Ritchie (pictured below) who was in the building. Thus, just over half an hour after the first abortive start it was announced that the play would restart with Kathryn Ritchie playing Beverley book in hand.
With typical British stoicism the audience resumed their seats, but not without more than a little apprehension as to whether or not with a play full of biting satire, that requires excellent comedy timing, and a fair amount of comedy business, Kathryn Ritchie and the other four members of the cast could pull the chestnuts out of the fire.
The answer, as far as the spoken word was concerned, was a definite yes. Playing together as a tight-knit team, the cast bounced the dialogue off one another at a goodly pace, only rarely allowing you to remember that there was a hand-held script on stage. Not surprisingly, not all the opportunities to develop comic business were fully taken, but some richly drawn characters emerged.
It took a little while for Kathryn Ritchie’s monstrous Beverly to emerge. Her constant demands on her husband Laurence to take them further up the 1970s middle-class ladder leads to him having a heart attack.
But with Tom Richardson’s Laurence showing increasing signs of nerves stretched to breaking point, the partnership was firmly established long before the frantic final scene.
With expert judgement, Alice De-Warrenne, as Angela, overcame the tricky problem of gradually becoming more and more intoxicated as the evening progressed. She drew more than her fair share of laughs from a situation in which she did not realise how condescending Beverly was being towards her, and how rocky her marriage to George Readshaw’s beautifully sullen Tony was.
Angela and Tony represented the lower echelons of middle-class society, and the divorced Susan the top of the tree that Beverly in particular was eager to climb. Jo Castleton made Susan an ideal target, full of uncertainty and worry about what was going on at her daughter Abigail’s party, for Beverly, on purpose, and Angela, with no malice and completely unintendedly, to attack.
Given the opportunity, Kathryn Ritchie would no doubt have improved on this fine effort of portraying Beverly over the next two days, but happily for the company Rebecca Birch should be back in harness this evening and for the rest of the tour which extends until October.
Pictured: Jo Castleton as Susan, Alice De-Warrenne as Angela and Rebecca Birch as Beverly in Abigail’s Party. Photograph by Sheila Burnett
Footnote: Rebecca Birch returns to the role of Beverley on Tuesday, and for the rest of the tour, which continues until October, and is back in the south west in Barnstaple and Taunton in September.