Set in a cosy 70’s living room, Absent Friends centres around a tea party at Paul and Diana’s house. It’s a domestic comedy that Ayckbourn is known for, where secrets unfold and relationships hang in the balance. Ayckbourn invites the audience into the lives of six individuals and their two absent friends. There are moments of dramatic tension leading up to disclosures, defused by comedy throughout.
Direction by Ann Atkins is good with symmetry between the actors enhancing the comedy at times. Diana is played by Frankie Night who is a born communicator and sits at the centre of the drama. She is a Brighton Little Theatre veteran: this production is her eleventh with the theatre company. She is very witty and her tea party falls apart when she withdraws.
Paul Morley who plays Paul is married to Diana. He is the ‘bad boy’, frustrated and stifled in his marriage. He injects a fair amount of humour into proceedings and generates quite a lot of sympathy along the way.
Holly Everett is Evelyn and her facial expressions from the moment she arrives on stage are priceless. She is a disinterested young Mum who according to her partner, John, never laughs.
Ciaran O’Connor acts as John and has been a member of BLT since 2004. He is generally happy-go-lucky but watch out for his phobias – they’ll have you in stitches.
Marge played by Kate McGann, is very down-to-earth and quite frankly, a godsend at a dysfunctional tea party. The odd faux pas aside, she looks after people, including Diana and tries to bring secrets into the open.
Daniel Carr acts as the enigmatic Colin – the guest of honour at this tea party. Recently bereaved, he is in much better shape than may be expected. He dominates the audience’s attention, oblivious to the undercurrents and tensions that unfold.
A lot of the actors have acted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream showing their skills and versatility.
Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn is quite simply feel good fun – a production that invites a lot of laughter. Characterisation is very good, the set is excellent and the intimacy of Brighton Little Theatre enhances the audience’s involvement in the tea party.
Four stars ****