“Keep it cheerful”
In some ways, there’s no point in commenting on Alan Ayckbourn as a playwright – his position in the pantheon is evidently secured and his body of work is frequently revived and toured around the country. And with such a prolific pen, it is a considerable number of plays that he has now amassed – 75 at the last count. However, I have never really been seduced by him, the only play I’ve really liked was the atypical Snake in the Grass, the majority of his pieces have struck me as somewhat inconsequential and sitcom-like, and further dulled by repetition as evidenced by the smattering of his oeuvre I have witnessed. But I can never resist a ticket being dropped into my hand and the lure of an interesting looking cast meant that I took in Absent Friends at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
One of his earlier works from 1974, Absent Friends sees Ayckbourn train his aim on death and the different ways people deal with it. Colin’s old friends are holding a Saturday afternoon tea party to comfort him after the unfortunate death of his fiancee but as they attempt to step gingerly around the topic, he is more than willing to talk about her, their short time together and show his photo collection to everyone. But what Colin is blithely unaware of is that the perfect lives that he imagines they are all living are a sham and behind the forced smiles over the sandwiches, lies a seething mass of jealousy, anger and frustration that is coming to the boil and it becomes apparent that it is not him whose really in need of tea and comfort.