London Classic Theatre: Absent Friends.
Summer 1974. A well-intentioned tea party descends into chaos.
Wealthy, unfulfilled housewife Diana arranges a gathering of old friends to cheer up bereaved Colin, whose fiancée drowned two months earlier. Paul, her bullying, self-absorbed husband, has recently had a dalliance with Evelyn, the glamorous wife of his friend and incompetent business associate, John. The party is completed by long-suffering Marge, who has left Gordon, her hypochondriac spouse, ailing at home. Preparations for the party spark tensions and open old wounds. As lingering resentments and deep-rooted jealousies surface, an unexpectedly cheerful Colin strolls into the mayhem.
Acerbic and painfully funny, Absent Friends explores friendship, marriage and what it ultimately means to be happy. In one of his finest plays, Ayckbourn’s craftsmanship and acute social observation have never been sharper or more biting.
Artistic Director Michael Cabot recently answered a few questions about Absent Friends and also what he will be working on next.
Written in 1974 by Alan Ayckbourn. What is the key to the continued success of Absent Friends?
I think strong writing that is rooted in character will always endure and continue to be relevant. Times change, fashions transform, but people essentially remain the same. Ayckbourn has managed to resonate with audiences for so long and so widely, because fundamentally he understands what makes us tick. He is a brilliant observer of human beings and what drives them. It’s great to see this play, written 41 years ago, draw audiences in today with such ease. Above all though, Absent Friends is a comedy of social awkwardness and embarrassment, and I think audiences today are incredibly well tuned into the genre. You only have to look at the broad appeal of TV shows like Peep Show and The Office to see that this kind of comedy continues to fascinate.
As the director, what are the biggest challenges in touring the production?
I think an awareness that our production has to work on a wide variety of stages around the country is important. It needs to be intimate at times, but also work in large scale theatres, so from a technical point of view, the rules can change week to week, day by day. Each new venue not only brings a different challenge in terms of scale, but regional audiences can vary hugely in their response. For us as a company, it’s really important that we approach each venue with the same high standards and expectations of ourselves. There is no room for complacency, even on a long tour.
How do you think regional theatre audiences compare with those in the West End for Absent Friends?
It’s easy to generalise, but I think audiences can differ hugely around the country. I think expectations of what ‘good’ theatre is varies widely across the length and breadth of the UK. There is a general perception, that I think has some merit, that London drama audiences are more critical and often sit back with a ‘Come on then, entertain me!’ attitude, while regional audiences perhaps go with more of an open mind. The response to the production was very different, say, in Blackpool, where the audience were quite interactive, commenting audibly on how they felt about the characters, whereas, this week in Coventry, while there has been much laughter, there has also been an incredible stillness to the auditorium at times. We are in Richmond next week, so I think that’s as close as we’ll get to a typical ‘West End’ audience. I’m looking forward to seeing what they make of it.
What is next with Absent Friends and for you?
It’s our 15th anniversary this year so everything is very busy at the moment. Absent Friends starts a second tour in August for another 14 weeks with three new cast members joining the fray. I’m also very excited about directing Waiting for Godot, which opens in September at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury before touring until November. Beyond that, I’m starting pre-production work for Pinter’s The Birthday Party, which opens in early 2016.
Artistic Director Michael Cabot.
Michael Cabot’s touring productions (2000-2015) include Entertaining Mr Sloane, Betrayal, The Importance of Being Earnest, Equus, Ghosts, After Miss Julie, The Caretaker, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Humble Boy, Abigail’s Party, Nightfall, The Double Inconstancy, Old Times, Love in the Title, Frozen, Closer, Entertaining Mr Sloane, Molly Sweeney, The Killing of Sister George, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Look Back in Anger, The Game of Love and Chance, My Mother Said I Never Should and Oleanna. Other credits include Pera Palas (Arcola), The Power of Love (Southwark Playhouse), Marat/Sade (Arcola), Tattoo (New Grove), and most recently, a critically-acclaimed staging of Henry Naylor’s The Collector at the Arcola, which previously won a Fringe First at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival.
London Classic Theatre
Absent Friends Tour from 28th April to 18th July 2015
Book tickets and for more information:
Friday 12th June 2015