26th April 2018
Ashover Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Joyce Handbury
Absent Friends is a 1974 play by Alan Ayckbourn and is based around three couples - Diana and Paul whose house they are in, Evelyn and her husband John and Marge and her husband who is ill at home in bed. Diana has arranged a tea party for the group to come together to commiserate and comfort an old friend Colin, though none of them have seen him for three years during which time he has found the love of his life and lost her in a drowning accident. The assembled group dread Colin’s arrival, agonising over what words of comfort they can offer and all the while exposing gaping failures in their own marital relationships. However when Colin does turn up he is incredibly positive and appears to be coping far better than his circle of old friends.
There wasn’t a set as such, the one scene had appropriate items that one would associate with a living room and as it’s at the Parish Hall for one night only and then is playing in two other small venues each for one night, this was more than adequate. Liz McKenzie was superb as Diana. She is convinced that her husband is having an affair and Liz totally captured the agitation, desperate frustrations, the despair, the vulnerability and insecurities splendidly and her final meltdown when she poured a jug of milk over her husband’s head and the subsequent outpourings of her longing, when young, to become a Canadian Mountie were heart-rendering. Paul was well delivered by Martin Devaney although I did feel that, at times, he rather underplayed the character. Alicia Bloundele was great as the sullen, sulky and seemingly bored Evelyn. Her initial monosyllabic responses, whilst constantly chewing gum, were just perfect as were her acerbic and brutally honest replies when questioned about her very brief affair with Paul, Diana’s husband. Chris Gale was perfect as John he certainly had plenty of exercise as he never stayed still and his constant agitation certainly portrayed his inner feelings of inadequacies concerning both his marriage and work. Marge was so convincingly and sympathetically played by Susan Devaney. There was a real sadness about her but she kept busy helping out in various ways trying to appease everyone and was constantly at the beck and call of her ailing husband, although not present was constantly on the phone to her. Mark Gunton was brilliant as Colin. He takes over the stage with his enthusiastic outpourings and is totally oblivious and unaware of the ensuing emotional upheaval that his sharing of past memories and photos have on his friends. He counts himself lucky to have experienced true love and quite happily departs the gathering with his memories intact, quite unaware that in fact he aided the further decline, despondency and uncertainties of his friends. The play doesn’t do much to raise one’s spirits although it was quite funny in places. Apart from the optimism of Colin it did leave me feeling quite sad for those fractured individuals and their unresolved dilemmas. A very thought provoking evening and the cast definitely deserve every credit for their splendid portrayals - as does the Director and his team of helpers.