by Alan Ayckbourn.

Oldham Coliseum To 20 February 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 6, 10, 20 Feb 2.30pm.
Audio-described10 Feb.
BSL Signed: 11 Feb.
Spotlight with Cast and Director: Wed 10 Feb @12.00pm – 1.30pm: £2.00.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.

then Harrogate Theatre 25 February-13 March.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 6, 13 March 2.30pm.
Audio-described 11 March.
BSL Signed 12 March.
Captioned 9 March.
TICKETS: 01423 502116

then Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke 16-20 March 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm.
TICKETS: 01256 844244.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Stoon 30 January.

Has someone died?
Absent Friends dates from 1974. Ayckbourn acknowledged it was a different beast to his norm – stripped of the usual niceties and with death at its heart; it was penned to highlight the awkwardness felt when facing those who have suffered the loss of a dear one.

Well-intentioned hostess Di, wife to Paul, invites recently bereaved Colin to late-afternoon tea along with two other neighbouring couples – all mutual friends who lost touch when Colin moved away.

Initially it’s a girlie get-together, with Di joined by Evelyn & Marge. The talk’s textbook-copy for a Relate Counselling manual; more is learnt about their unhappy marriages in the absence of respective men – the husbands could sue for defamation, though with little chance of success once we’ve met them. Circling proceedings is the albatross of Colin’s arrival. Nobody knows what to say, and no one wants to say it.

Characters are painted with a vibrant palette, which, given their quirks results in occasional colour bleed. Kerry Peers’ Di acceptably fluctuates between nervous and neurotic and Dominic Gately as fidgety John gives a master class in how not to keep still – both warrant a sympathetic nod. Not so the younger Garboesque Poppy whose one word replies become tiresome, and short-fused Paul, who’s prime anger-management material. Samantha Giles gives Marge the demeanour of an angel, but her slavish devotion to her absent bed-ridden husband goes beyond the call of duty.

It’s left to David Crellin as the wonderfully ’70s-attired Colin to illustrate Ayckbourn’s fundamental point that those directly affected by death often cope better than sympathisers. His warmth and calmness give the piece what heart it has.

Colin Richmond’s open-plan ground floor set is authentic and ideal, allowing events to unfold predominantly in the lounge with suitable kitchen, upstairs and garden bolt-holes provided.

The occasionally overdone sitcom style may be a response to compensate for death not being so unmentionable in these Facebook Tribute-page days but the net effect is to present unhappy flawed characters incapable of change. The absence of their possible salvation taints the piece – we’re left unfilled, despite a largely enjoyable evening.

Diana: Kerry Peers.
Marge: Samantha Giles.
Evelyn: Poppy Tierney.
Colin: David Crellin.
Paul: Steve Pinder.
John: Dominic Gately.

Director: Nikolai Foster.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting: Thomas Weir.
Sound: Lorna Munden.
Composer: David Shrubsole.

2010-02-04 14:45:10

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