‘Absent Friends’ at the Harold Pinter Theatre

I think the best thing I can say about ‘Absent Friends’ by Alan Ayckbourn is that the two Dutch people sitting next to me in the theatre seemed to be enjoying it, chuckling and snorting along and making our shared row of seats shake with their mirth during the performance.

As for me, not a single moment, line, gesture or look managed to raise so much as a silent smile, let alone anything approaching laughter.  I’ve written before about how difficult I find ‘Comedy’, so I’m not the best indicator for the success or otherwise of something predicated on the assumption that the audience is meant to find it funny, but having said that, I think the two friends with whom I went, were also decidedly underwhelmed on the evening.

The play, first performed in the early 1970s, is set during an awkward tea party, arranged to reunite a group of friends in support of a person they have not seen for a number of years, but who has been recently bereaved.

So we’re set up with a potentially bleak subject matter, a group of people who won’t say what is really on their minds, a suspected infidelity, a person who can’t speak but to put their foot in their mouth, a baby in a pram, and one man desperate to make a sale to his more successful ‘friend’, who has probably been sleeping with his wife.  Predictably, it all turns very awkward, shouty, a bit slap sticky with a generous dollop of running in and out of the kitchen or up and downstairs, and someone being doused with a jug of cream originally intended to go with the trifle.

If these elements are likely to amuse you, then the play may be for you.

Meanwhile, I sat wondering if they were original copies of Woman and Woman’s Own that Kara Tointon, as Evelyn, was reading, or if they’d been mocked up for the show; and whether having to ostentatiously chew gum for the entire running time might not be giving her wind.

The set was a careful recreation of a certain kind of 1970s aspirational décor, examination of which kept me occupied for part of the first half, but after the interval, I resorted to studying the stucco decoration of the theatre itself, my only sympathy with the play’s action being with the character Diana, who had to keep running off stage in tears.

I did stay to the end; foolishly, I nurtured an unrequited hope that the second half had to be better than the first……

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