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Absent Friends - Union Theatre (Review)

Absent Friends

Review by Shanna Schreuder

ALAN Ayckbourn’s tragic-comedy Absent Friends has always been more tragedy than comedy and this current production, directed by Ben de Wynter, succeeds in creating the uncomfortable atmosphere required to make this show work.

A group of friends come together for an afternoon tea party to offer sympathy and support to Colin, whose fiancée has recently drowned in an accident.

Although everyone in the room is reluctant to talk about his deceased partner, Colin is more than happy to chat about how much she meant to him and how lucky he was to have met her.

But his joy only brings to light how unhappy the others are with their lives and, after much probing by Colin, the masks slip, exposing the truth about how depressed they really are.

The detailed 1970s living room set and costumes add to the gloomy ambiance, but as with every Alan Ayckbourn play, there are some good witty lines to lighten the mood: “I hate death, it gives me the creeps”; “My father never took a stroke of exercise until he died”; “What if we get one (a baby) and it grows up to be a murderer?”

Gillian McCafferty as Diana, the hostess of the party and cheated-on wife of Paul (Chas Early), is the backbone of the show, displaying both the humour and heartbreak of a broken woman.

And Olivia Busby as Evelyn, the wife of John (Shaun Stone) who’s having an affair with Paul, has skilfully mastered the mannerisms and lethargic conversation of a woman who’s bored with her life, her husband and even her newborn child.

This is a darkly funny play that, despite being set forty-odd years ago, should perhaps come with a warning sign for any recently married couples who have moved to the suburbs – some of the contents may be a bit too close for comfort!

Absent Friends is on at the Union Theatre until Saturday, November 13, 2010. Box office: 020 7261 9876. View photos