This wonderfully comic play can be viewed at many levels:
- A clash of classes (Beverley and the neighbouring couple are working class; her husband Lawrence aspires to be middle class; and Abigail's Mum is upper middle.)
- A conflict of skills (Beverley as the stay-at-home, childless wife doesn't work, doesn't cook and orders poor Lawrence to do virtually everything, whereas her apparently inept neighbour comes into her own as nurse at the climax of the play.)
- As an allegory on the white man's departure from Africa. At the time of the play's creation, Britain was negotiating its exit from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). Abigail's posh Mum doesn't know whether to leave the partygoers to it -- possibly causing havoc -- or to interfere herself, or to ask Lawrence to go and have a look.
Whichever way you look at it, it's tremendous fun throughout, with a flawless performance by Alison Steadman as Beverley. There are some fantastic lines, most of them uttered by Janine Duvitski (who went on to star in ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE), such as "I've got very beautiful lips" (you have to see Steadman's reaction), and "We're so alike" (ditto).
Strangely the weakest performance is by Tim Stern as Lawrence, who never totally convinces as the stressed-out, over-sensitive estate agent who thinks he's cultured because he owns a set of Shakespeare's works which he never expects to read.
The accompanying featurette is all too short, but it's pretty clear that this play simply wouldn't have existed without Alison Steadman's demonic creation. Mike Leigh may have been the writer/ director, but Beverley was based on an Essex woman and a cosmetics demonstrator whom Steadman met prior to the improvisations.
The DVD picture quality is a good as you could possibly expect from a BBC 1970s studio production. The 1970s decor comes up wonderfully!