Vicky Binns says she has never enjoyed rehearsals more: “It has been great. It has been hysterical. We have been crying with laughter.”
But it is that very special kind of laughter. Abigail’s Party laughter. Dark laughter.
“That’s the thing,” says Vicky. “You can feel the tension in the play building up, and I think the laughter is a release.”
Jodie Prenger leads the cast as Beverly in Mike Leigh’s ground-breaking comedy classic which begins a major UK tour at Theatre Royal Brighton (January 10-19). Vicky joins the cast as Angela, someone seriously impressed by Beverly.
Beverly and her husband Laurence are throwing a party for their newlywed neighbours, Tony and Angela. Joining them is highly-strung Susan who’s been banished from the party of her teenage daughter Abigail. The piece takes us back to 1970s suburbia and its heady mix of free-flowing cocktails, classic disco and cheese and pineapple sticks. As tensions rise and tempers flare, the sheen of respectability is torn away by the warring couples…
“It is great fun,” says Vicky who has had long-running roles in Coronation Street, playing Molly Dobbs for five years, and Emmerdale as Ollie Reynolds for four years.
“And there is such lovely tension. Beverly is such an amazing character, such a complex character and not necessarily the most likeable character. She does not behave well, but at the same time, I think you can be on her side and feel some of her vulnerability and some of her insecurities, her wanting all the time to be keeping up with the Joneses. But she thinks she is there. She has got a husband and a nice house, but it is not working in terms of fulfilment, and there are frustrations that are coming out in front of everyone.
“My character Angela is aspiring. She is a nurse. She feels like a younger sister of Beverly. Beverly is quite the Queen Bee and my character is really looking up to her in a very optimistic, naive way. She is very willing to be led. Beverly is so charismatic, and Angela is slung into it all and wants to step up and have what Beverly has got.
“I would like to see a modern version and see how it happens, but our version is set in the 70s which works in terms of the women and the confines of their situation. It is not so very long ago, but it was still about wives asking for their husbands’ permission for things. They are women where getting married is a given and where divorce still feels like a taboo.
“It was originally done in the theatre, and the story goes that Alison Steadman got pregnant and so was not able to do a long run, but it was such a hit as a theatre piece that they did the film quickly before she got too visibly pregnant. She wears that floaty dress with layers that hides her bump.
“I have not watched the film before, but it is there in my vision, in my psyche, in my mind. I know what each character looks like. I must have seen little clips. You can’t avoid it. It is like trying to avoid the football results! But I have not watched it through… though I would not be opposed to it.”