Review: Abigail's Party, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

WHAT happened in 1977? Elvis died; the Sex Pistols sneered; The Queen had one of her jubilees, and 16 million TV viewers sat aghast as Alison Steadman behaved appallingly in Mike Leigh’s caustic comedy Abigail’s Party.

Steadman has cast a long shadow of subsequent performances, but along comes the wonderful Jodie Prenger in Sarah Esdaile's fabulously grotesque touring production and she makes this "bucket list role" – Jodie's description – her own. Just as the Blackpool actress delighted in Kay Mellor's Fat Friends, Calamity Jane and Shirley Valentine with her remarkable facility for accents and comic timing.

In bottle-blonde hair and a maxi-dress with every colour vying for dominance, she is playing the gauche Beverly, caught up in a game of one-upmanship with fraught husband Laurence (Daniel Casey, from Midsommer Murders) as they throw a party for their newlywed neighbours, ex-professional footballer Tony (Calum Callaghan) and nurse Angela (Vicky Binns, from Coronation Street and Emmerdale).

Last to join them in their gaudy North London living room in Leigh's suburban comedy of awkward social-climbing manners will be Sue (Rose Keegan), whose 15-year old daughter has banished her from the party of the play's title next door.

Stand well back as Leigh lights the touchpaper for tensions to rise and tempers to flare as the sheen of respectability is ripped away when Prenger's loud piranha chews up her guests and spits out her "weak" husband in her maelstrom of endless gin top-ups, cheese and pineapple sticks, chain-smoked cigarettes and Donna Summer, Demis Roussos and Elvis records.

All the while, we hear muffled punk music through the wall as Abigail's party gets equally out of hand.

Casey's workaholic husband Laurence is preoccupied/absent/stewing, exasperated by his witless wife’s lack of appreciation for his tentative, self-improving interest in art. More than in past productions, it is evident Beverly is, in turn, frustrated by a lack of bedroom dynamics.

Binns's easily impressed nurse grows ever more chatty the more pie-eyed she becomes. By contrast, humour bypasses Callaghan's taciturn Tony, who turns from brusque to brooding to breaking point.

Esdaile's cast are all terrific, led by Prenger's crashing monster, all outrageous front, yet so shallow and lonely behind the cigarette haze. If Binns's hopeless dancing is a particular comic high point, Keegan's portrayal of middle-class Sue's excruciating discomfort provides welcome subtlety amid the bolder colours around her.

Esdaile squeezes all the lemon juice out of Leigh's ever more bitter comedy, with the tempo and tempers rising to tempestuous as the domestic drama intensifies. Praise too for Janet Bird's raked stage with a sloped ceiling that compresses the further back it goes, mirroring Beverly's crushing impact.

Using The Ramones' blitzkrieg punk music to puncture the start, middle and end of the play is an inspired directorial choice too.

Charles Hutchinson