Review: Absent Friends, by Alan Ayckbourn, New Wolsey Theatre, until November 14

Proofs 29.4.15

ABSENT FREINDS LCT Proofs 29.4.15 - Credit: Archant

Alan Ayckbourn is a master at getting to grips with people’s relationships with one another. His portraits of people are brutally honest, wickedly funny but never unkind.

He loves nothing more than to strip away the glossy veneer that we paint over ourselves and our relationships at times and show what really goes on behind closed doors in people’s houses.

Ayckbourn loves exploring what makes couples tick. He loves probing their insecurities as well as their virtues. His plays remain incredibly popular – not only because they are witty and you can detect the familiar ring of truth in the situations he creates – but because he basically likes his characters and audiences see themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, being portrayed on stage.

Absent Friends is brilliantly crafted, very insightful, comic drama with plenty of wonderfully funny moments – all expertly played by the cast – and yet it is also something of a time capsule.

Alan Ayckbourn has captured a moment in time. This is a mid-70s tea party. This situation can have only taken place between 1974 and 1977. The attitudes, the situation and the dialogue place it firmly in the era of soft-rock, the three-day week and the exotic delights of a prawn cocktail.

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Director Michael Cabat does a great job keeping the whole thing zipping along and the six actors expertly create a glorious collection of flawed characters but, for all the laughs and entertainment the play provides, you can’t help wonder how long a play like this will survive.

It works because the audience is immediately transported back to that time and remember being in situations like the one depicted on stage. It’s funny because audiences can time travel back to the mid-70s and enjoy a nostalgic evening.

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The best plays, the plays that really last, address timeless issues about ourselves and society. Age old questions about life, love and identity. Absent Friends, I fear, examines the concerns of society in 1975 and once those who survived the horrors of the 1970s tea party are dead, then I wonder who the audience for this play will be.

For now though, it has no trouble in raising a laugh thanks to the skillful playing of actors like Kathryn Ritchie as the monosyllabic Evelyn and Susie Emmett as the socially upbeat Marge.

Andrew Clarke

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