Review: Absent Friends - Stage Direct, North Walsham Atrium
09:24 19 May 2013
This Alan Ayckbourn classic is a comedy laced with toe-curling tension as a group of friends provide a tea party for recently bereaved Colin.
But as they gather to await his arrival, the troubles in their own lives slowly unravel - turning the tea and sympathy session into tears and turmoil.
Hostess Diana’s tea and cake spread has other ingredients - a simmering knowledge that her husband Paul has had a fling with Evelyn the wife of his friend and business contact John.
Fellow guest Marge is there in the absence of the illness and accident-prone Gordon, whose mishaps of the day unfold in smothering, mothering phone conversations.
When Colin arrives, despite losing his fiancee in a tragic drowning, he is the one with the least troubles on show - but steps into a “party” which has already descended into a snakepit of tetchy bickering between the dysfunctional “friends.”
Loraine Ruddle is powerful as the one-minute upbeat, next minute tearful, party organiser regretting she never joined the Mounties. Ashley Burgoyne captures the bullying bravado of unfaithful, self-centred Paul.
Serena Cain smoulders as the monosyllabic, eye-rolling Evelyn who suffers almost in silence the fidgety, geekiness of her death-phobic John (Matt Fippard).
Berni Alexandrou teeters around as the childless fusspot Marge, who like the other women, is suffering because of their menfolk, even though hers is not even in the room.
David Starling is spot on as the innocent smiling Colin who enters the homecoming can of worms, recounting memories which pick further scabs off the festering relationships around him. The darkness of the plot means this is not a laugh-a-minute comedy. There are awkward silences, but also cutting dialogue and astute characterisation.
Stage Direct are making the Atrium their new home for plays with a difference, and they deserve a warmer welcome mat than Colin received.