Show dates: 24th to 28th October 2017 - Tilbury Hall Theatre
Autumn Play – Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn
Three couples - Diana and Paul, John and Evelyn and Marge and Gordon are meeting at Diana’s house for a tea
party to offer sympathy to their friend, Colin, whose fiancée has recently drowned. Gordon is always ill and
does not attend. Understandably they are on edge wondering what to say to Colin but underlying tensions
slowly come to the surface before he arrives. Paul has had an affair with John’s wife Evelyn, Marge, desperate
for a child has transferred her mothering instincts to her sick husband, Diana is desperately unhappy, is bullied
by Paul and suspects him of the affair with Evelyn. John is also aware of his wife’s affair with Paul but is
dependent on John for employment. As matters are about to erupt Colin arrives but his unexpected air of heroic
cheerful relaxation contrasts dramatically with their awkward tension and his attempts to try and sort out their
problems create further rifts and causes each of them to break down.
‘Mr Ayckbourn’s mastery of black comedy ensures another success’
In Alan Ayckbourn’s brief notes on Absent Friends he refers to the fact that the play, which is set in the 70’s
should not be updated and should be considered a ‘period piece’. Society, particularly in its treatment of
women, has changed. At the time of writing, ‘new woman’ had yet to emerge and many wives had been brought
up by their mothers to believe their responsibility was first and foremost to husbands and family – supportive
and secondary. By setting the play in the correct period, Ayckbourn believes it should work as he intended.
Most of the characters are in roughly the same age group – i.e. late 40’s – early 50’s with the exception of
Evelyn who has recently had a baby and could be in her early 30’s. John, her husband, could also be in his late
30’s – early 40’s. The character of Gordon does not appear, as he is continually accident- prone and in ill health.
Colin: A widower – not particularly liked by his so-called ‘friends’ who feel they have to offer sympathy for his
loss; he nevertheless causes all of them to break down.
Paul: A friend of Colin – husband of Diana – has had an affair with Evelyn. A bully and somewhat aggressive.
John: A friend of Colin and a business associate of Paul; knows about Paul’s affair with Evelyn but has to keep
on the right side of him.
Diana: Wife of Paul – very unhappy in her marriage and the emptiness of her life. Living on her nerves.
Marge: A more cheerful, bustling character – childless and regretting it, has devoted her life to caring for
husband Gordon – her spoilt child?
Evelyn: ‘New woman’ just starting to emerge – disdainful of the lives of Diana and Marge – John is not her first
affair – sulky attitude and not very likeable.
This is very much one of Ayckbourn’s black comedies– a play which can possibly make the audience somewhat
uncomfortable when the humour is directed at people’s weaknesses – but at the same time drawing their
sympathy and - hopefully! – making them laugh.
Diane - Christine Le Couilliard
Marge - Catherine Little
Evelyn - Helen Green
Paul - Jorge Frutuoso
John - George Rowlands
Colin - Nick Vause