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Absent Friends and absent lines

Absentfriends_500It's a little bit of shame that the abiding memory of watching Absent Friends this week is going to be Reece Shearsmith forgetting his lines and being prompted. I've only seen it happen once before (Paul Jesson in Cock at the Royal Court Upstairs) and it is uncomfortable to experience not only for the actor concerned and the rest of the cast but also the audience.

Shearsmith recovered brilliantly and the rest of the cast barely batted an eyelid but for the next 10 minutes my eyes kept wandering over to where he was on stage to check for signs that he was rattled, put off his flow or whatever. It wasn't out of a wish of wanting to see it happen again it was more a fear for him, a will that it would go smoothly from then on. Standing up in front of hundreds of people and going blank is a popular nightmare and I'm sure not just in the Stanley household.

Aside from that little mishap I really enjoyed Absent Friends. I know Alan Ayckbourn can be a little too much middle class moaning for some people but I like the melancholy, awkward humour in it and Ayckbourn has knack for well-observed dialogue even if it is, at times, a little dated.

At its core it is about life and death and how we deal with it. A group of old school friends gather for an afternoon tea party to support Colin who's newly returned to the area having lost his fiance Carole in a swimming accident.

It takes a little while to get into its stride, set up the scenario and feed in lines for the humour but once it gets going, it not only gives a humourous look at how we deal with death but also how we deal with our life choices.

Colin's perfect view of his relationship with the dead Carole is unaware of the marital tension between schoolyard sweethearts Diana (Katherine Parkinson) and Paul (Steffan Rhodri) and new parents Evelyn (Kara Tointon) and John (David Armand) but the cracks soon begin to appear.

Ayckbourn sets the play in just one room, in real time - a clock on the wall marks the passing minutes and is replicate in projected form on the safety curtain during the interval. The confined space and passing of time serving to heighten the drama and awkward moments for those at the tea party.

It is well done with some fine performances particularly from Katherine Parkinson and Elizabeth Berrington as Marge. And Kara Tointon is probably the first person I've seen in a long while to suit the Charlie's Angel's, half-a-can of hair spray, 70's wing-flick hair-cut.

I'm going to give it four stars. Absent Friends is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 14 April and I saw a preview performance. Broadway World has lots of production photos on their website including a nice shot of Kara Tointon's Diana and that hair cut.


An easy one, Katherine Parkinson played Mr W's girlfriend in Cock.