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Absent Friends – Alan Ayckbourn
Next Stage
The Mission Theatre Bath

Written in 1974 this razor sharp comedy hits home in all the right places. The excellent company relish each barb and silence with great control and the result is a triumphant start to the autumn season for Next Stage Theatre Company.

Under the direction of Ann Ellison this Ayckbourn classic is honed to perfection. Set in real time and in one place, a rare treat for Ayckbourn scripts, we meet Diana, Marge, Evelyn, Paul, John and Colin. The event is afternoon tea for Colin as he has been recently bereaved and the friends gather to support him. As usual the cracks and chasms in the marriages and relationships of the friends are never far from the surface and the reality of life just gets in the way. Performances are strong and characters are painfully real; full of human failings and dreams wasted.

Caroline Groom (Diana) heads the cast as the hostess whose unfaithful husband Paul played with brutal force by Brian Hudd has broken all her dreams and hopes. Marge (Annabel Chater) is desperate to be loved and needed in her endless caring role whilst the bumbling Colin (Andrew Ellison) is thrown clear of the hardships of relationships due to his bereavement.

 

Ayckbourn manages to distil so much in the short passage of time. The pressures of caring, bringing up children and life have different effects on the gloriously monosyllabic Evelyn (Georgi Bassil) and John (Michael Stevens) whilst being poles apart they seem to have the least secrets.
This is a great work and reflects Ayckbourn at his best, a tight and well drawn analysis of human nature; well worth a visit.

 

Petra Schofield