Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn

Absent Friends was the first Ayckbourn play to be set in 'real' time. A tea-party has been arranged for the recently bereaved Colin by 'friends' and acquaintances. However, Colin's acceptance of his situation and of his fulfilling time with his fiancée only serves to highlight and widen the rifts in the other relationships.

The play is directed by Mark Kilmurry.  The cast of six includes, Michelle Doake, Darren Gilshenan, Brian Meegan, Jessica Sullivan, Richard Sydenham, Queenie Van De Zandt.  Together they bring this play to life with laugh out loud moments and a sense of melancholy, true to Ayckbourn's style. 

The men of the piece are largely unsympathetic. Paul (played by Richard Sydenham) is a serial cheat, John (played by Brian Meegan) is a feckless cuckold, and Marge's unseen husband is a demanding hypochondriac.  Colin (played by Darren Gilshenan) is blissfully unaware of the unhappy relationships around him, holding on to a romanticised version of the friendships in the group.

The women are also flawed, with Evelyn (played by Jessica Sullivan) as the disinterested young mother, and the well-meaning but fumbling Marge (played by Queenie Van De Zandt). Michelle Doake's performance is excellent as the hostess Diana, who does her best to put on a successful reunion for Colin, whilst containing her feelings about her husband's latest affair. 

Strong performances and production make this a highly watchable and entertaining piece.  Set in the '70's, the costumes and hairstyles are wonderful and, in Marge's case, assist the comic atmosphere.  The Ensemble Theatre lends itself well, drawing you into Diana and Paul's living room.

Using a balance of comedy and tragedy Ayckbourn points out some of our worst traits, pettiness and self-obsession - so inevitably a certain amount of self-reflection follows.