It was never going to be easy stepping into Alison Steadman’s shoes as the monstrous Beverly in Mike Leigh’s classic portrait of marital hell in Seventies suburbia, but Hannah Waterman has a pretty good stab at it.
In fact, her performance – arch, manipulative and sensual – is one of the best things about a production which, though on the whole hugely entertaining, does have its flaws. Some of the comedy is overplayed – with the exaggerated “Essix” accents in particular proving a problematic distraction early on – thus diminishing its potency. The characters may be stereotypes but to play them as such is a mistake.
Overall, however, the genius of Leigh’s writing wins through, presenting an excruciatingly discomfiting portrayal of the shallow lives and frustrated aspirations of mismatched couples Beverly and Laurence, Angie and Tony and their divorced neighbour Sue as they gather for an evening of drinks and nibbles while Sue’s teenage daughter Abigail has a raucous party down the road.
Beneath the cliche-ridden small talk and veneer of social geniality lies a seething mass of resentment, insecurity and spiritual malaise culminating in a powerful, sombre and shocking conclusion.
The Alhambra, Bradford