A deliberate awkwardness has always existed in Mike Leigh's thirty-five year old play, in which two couples and a divorcee struggle to make small talk and hide the fractures in their relationships. In this production however, the awkwardness exists as much in the dynamics between the actors and the audience as between the feuding characters.
The foundations are promising. The penthouse suite of the Brunswick Hotel is a suave venue, and the set is a gloriously detailed manifestation of 1970s domesticity. Canapés of pickled onions, pineapple and cheese are served, to much tittering. If the seating had placed the audience amongst the actors, locating us within the party, it would have delivered a more comfortable, interactive experience. As it was, the rows of chairs lined up at the far wall were not ideal.
At the outset we are told that Angela Strachan, playing the party's hostess Beverley, will make use of a script, due to an illness during rehearsals. Although this is far from ideal, Strachan gamely throws herself into the role, with only a few slips and furrowed glances at the script.
The climax of the play is full of tension and drama. Beverly freaks out as her husband Laurence lies dying, and the music from Abigail's party next door builds into a thumping crescendo. But the play takes too long to erupt; the pace is slow and ponderous at times, the dialogue lifeless and flat. There is promise in this production, but a significant tightening of the cogs is required to achieve it.