Theatre Review - 'Absent Friends'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Welcome to a tea party you’ll never forget as Alan Ayckbourn’s insightful comedy of manners and social embarrassment, Absent Friends, returns to the West End (Harold Pinter Theatre) in a fine new production directed by Jeremy Herrin

The Trauma That Came To Tea, in Alan Ayckbourn's 'Absent Friends'When Colin's fiancée drowns, his married friends invite him round for comfort over tea and sandwiches. They all have one thing in common, however: they are trapped in loveless marriages. As the tea starts to pour, it is clear that trouble is brewing. Colin, in fact, seems the least traumatised of them, as the flaws in his friends’ relationships come to the surface.

Ayckbourn’s 1974 play has hardly aged at all and still seems both timely and revealing about human relationships. Ayckbourn has said that whilst on the surface this play is about death and our reactions to it, it is also about the death of love.

True, while we become immersed in these people’s lives, there are times during the first half when the pace slows down and we wish the production had been tighter. But Ayckbourn is a past master at dissecting the flaws in the human condition which result in jealousy, infidelity and barely concealed loathing, and the play is frequently very funny – such as when Marge says of her overweight, absent husband, “somebody the other day said he looked like a polythene bag full of water!”

In terms of Herrin's production, Tom Scutt’s evocation of a comfortable, tastefully furnished middle-class home exudes a strong sense of realism. But it is the perfectly pitched performances by Reece Shearsmith (looking and sounding like a young Ronnie Corbett) as Colin, an unglamorous Kara Tointon (recent winner of BBC 1’s Strictly Come Dancing) as the disinterested Evelyn, Katherine Parkinson as Diana, Elizabeth Berrington as Marge, Steffan Rhodri as Paul and David Armand as John that bring this play so vividly to life.

In short an enjoyable and thought-provoking black comedy that manages to reveal the pain behind the laughter.

By Laurence Green

Runs until April 14.

Box office: 0844 871 7622

Press: Janine Shalom for Premier PR 0207 292 8330

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Alexander Hay

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