Alan Ayckbourn’s acerbic and painfully funny play Absent Friends explores friendship, marriage and what it ultimately means to be happy.
In one of his finest plays Ayckbourn’s craftsmanship and acute social observation have never been sharper or more biting. And the play arrives at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for several days in May.
Absent Friends tells the story of a well intentioned tea party that descends into chaos in the summer of 1974.
Wealthy, unfulfilled housewife Diana arranges a gathering of old friends to cheer up bereaved Colin, whose fiancée drowned two months earlier.
Paul, her bullying, self absorbed husband, has recently had a dalliance with Evelyn, the glamorous wife of his friend and incompetent business associate John.
The party is completed by long suffering Marge, who has left Gordon, her hypochondriac spouse, ailing at home.
Preparations for the party spark tensions and open old wounds. As lingering resentments and deep rooted jealousies surface, an unexpectedly cheerful Colin strolls into the mayhem.
Playwright Ayckbourn says of his characters: “They all have their faults as people.
“There are victims in the women, Diana and Marge and even in Evelyn, who has to need our sympathy married as she is to an amiable wally like John. Paul isn’t the most pleasant of men and Colin is a nightmare. Imagine spending an afternoon alone with him!
“But I love all my characters, even the awful ones. If you don’t start out writing them with affection, they’ll never hope to breathe off the page.
“It’s like how an actor approaches a new character, however awful they appear, you need to find something to love in them.”
However, looking beyond the end of the play, however complicated the problems within each of the marriages, Ayckbourn believes most of them will survive.
He said:“But whether they should is a different matter.
“Marge will stay with Gordon certainly. Di will stick with Paul for (so she will claim) the sake of the children.
“Evelyn might well leave John and take the baby with her but then she’s another generation.
“Only Colin had the perfect partnership, poor bloke.”
The play was written in the Seventies as a ‘comedy of embarrassment’ a genre later made so popular with shows like The Office. But Ayckbourn says he was unaware of breaking new ground at the time.
He said: “I was just looking for a new approach, fresh characters, same as I have always done.”
The play is on from Thursday May 14 to Saturday 16 with evening performances at 7.30pm and an additional Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.Tickets cost from £9 - £27.50 and will have an additional booking fee added when booked over the telephone on 0844 871 7607.