Absent Friends

Previewed 26 January 2012, Opened 9 February 2012, Closed 14 April 2012 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A major revival of Alan Ayckbourn's play Absent Friends featuring Reece Shearsmith, Kara Tointon and Elizabeth Berrington.

When Colin loses his fiancée, his married friends rally round to lend their support. But as the tea starts to pour, it becomes clear that trouble is brewing, as jealousy, infidelity, tension and barely concealed loathing bubble beneath the surface. Maybe Colin is not the one who needs help.

The cast for Absent Friends in London features Reece Shearsmith as 'Colin', Kara Tointon as 'Evelyn', Elizabeth Berrington as 'Marge', Katherine Parkinson as 'Diana', Steffan Rhodri as 'Paul' and David Armand as 'John'. The production is directed by Jeremy Herrin with designs by Tom Scutt, lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Ian Dickinson. Reece Shearsmith is best known for his work with the comedy team The League of Gentlemen. Kara Tointon made her West End stage debut last year playing the role of 'Eliza Dolittle' in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre. Elizabeth Berrington's West End stage credits include playing the central role of 'Beverly' in Abigail's Party at the Trafalgar Studios in 2003 and Top Girls at the Aldwych Theatre 2002. Alan Ayckbourn's London theatre credits include Damsels in Distress Trilogy: RolePlay, FlatSpin, and GamePlan, Woman in Mind, The Norman Conquests, Relatively Speaking, A Chorus of Disapproval, Bedroom Farce, How The Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular, Communicating Doors, and Things We Do for Love. Alan Ayckbourn also provided lyrics to the Andrew Lloyd Webber's P G Wodehouse musical By Jeeves, and Roger Glossop's children's show of Beatrix Potter's Where is Peter Rabbit?

"Sir Alan Ayckbourn wanted Absent Friends to be a serious work that would make people laugh, and, almost 40 years after he wrote it, it still manages to pull off this very neat trick. It has as its catalyst a death, and, as the punchline to the practical joke that God plays upon every one of us, it has often elicited nervous and clandestine titters... The play, directed with great spirit by Jeremy Herrin, is a study in excruciating pain, and, for my money, it's the best fun to be had in the West End today. There is some superb ensemble playing, but Kate Tointon - so good as Eliza in last year's superb revival of Pygmalion - probably wins on points as the frustrated, humourless Evelyn. The period detail, too, is spot-on. The copy of Women's Own on the drawing table looks freshly printed, and there are, also, the inevitable pieces of tinned pineapple and hard cheese impaled on cocktail sticks." The Sunday Telegraph

"This is a desperately clear-sighted piece about our awkwardness in talking about death. Even more painful, it's about the death of love. By Ayckbourn's standards, this 1974 play is strikingly stark, with neither his characteristic structural experimentation nor his typical comic barrage... Jeremy Herrin's expertly performed revival establishes the play as a classic period piece in which the emotional truths have not dated one jot. Di has invited the old gang round in order to offer tea and sympathy to Colin, whose fiancee, whom none of them had ever met, has recently drowned in a tragic accident... When Reece Shearsmith's Colin eventually turns up, he is not bereft but beaming, irrepressibly upbeat, his love for his dead fiancee still rapturously alive; the others' relationships are long dead. Chronically smug, he's also deaf and blind to the unhappiness that surrounds him. Lots of comedy arises from people putting a clumsy foot in it. Asked if she likes her tea milky, Marge replies: 'Yes, but don't drown it.' If you don't laugh, it's because you're already crying." The Mail on Sunday

Absent Friends in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 26 January 2012, opened on 9 February 2012 and closed on 14 April 2012.