So, it was a couple of weeks ago that I went with a couple of friends to see Absent Friends. None of us had been to the Harold Pinter Theatre before, but it was very similar to many of it’s time – it felt just like where I had seen Avenue Q a few years ago (can’t even remember where that was now, but believe it was on St Martin’s Lane!)
I had booked the tickets through Lastminute.com and hadn’t noticed until I got my booking confirmation that it stated that they would TRY to seat a whole party together, but may not be able to. I’m usually very good with these things, and can’t believe I had missed that stipulation! Anyway, we needn’t had worried as we definitely had THE best seats in the house! Centre/middle in the stalls with about 6ft legroom – no doubt where they would put wheelchair users if there were any!
The last Alan Ayckbourn play I saw was when my friend was in Round and round the garden in Putney. i had really enjoyed that, and this one starred Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), David Armand (the guy who does the interpretive dance – especially Torn) and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) so it couldn’t really go wrong, could it?
This is a real situational piece – just one setting – the very 70s lounge of Paul & Diana – a married couple whose children were sent away to school, her a housewife, he a businessman, neither of them seemingly happy in their marriage.
Colin, an old estranged friend who had never been married etc, had recently been engaged, although his fiancee had tragically died, and so Diane has decided it would be nice to throw a little tea party for him to try and cheer him up. Their other long-term friend John and his younger, prettier, rather disinterested gum-chewing wife (Kara Tointon) are there with their baby, and their other friend Marge has had to come alone as her large, hypochondriac husband is (enevitably) unwell.
Before it started, I had read Ayckbourn’s intro in the programme and was surprised that he had actually written this play following an experience in this exact situation.
The stage, the script, the acting were all spot on. It would have been hard to have found more shades of brown for all the furnishings – took you right back to the 70s! Parkinson was especially good at the put-upon wife, trying to stand her ground, and her always fantastic comic-timing was apparent all the way through. Shearsmith also played the awkward, optimistic Colin so endearingly and yet still managing to be rather annoying!
The awkward silences were played to perfection – there were parts during the play that I actually forgot I was watching a play…it was almost like a documentary, so real did the characters feel. I believed all of them, although Parkinson’s breakdown may have been a little OTT…but then, I guess, that’s what makes a breakdown.
All in all, thoroughly enjoyable – brilliant play! i will definitely go to another Ayckbourn play. Perhaps the other two of The Norman Conquests that I haven’t seen!