Absent Friends - performed July 1991

By Alan Ayckbourn

Performed with the kind permission of Samuel French

Director - Alison Brett


(in order of appearance)

Diana Debi Koval
Evelyn Tracy Amoss
Marge Lesley Mercer
Paul Charles Padgham
John Chris Mead
Colin Chris Mason

Production Team

Alison Brett, Bruce Emeny, Maurice Barber, Kevan Porter, Jude Hussey, Jenny Rollings, Greg Garrad, Alan Laurie, Charles Padgham. Val Taylor, Chris Wheeler, Allison Trenerry, Gill Baxter, Patience Ling, Viv Wheatley, and other volunteers not mentioned.

The Play

Colin must be comforted in his grief over the death of his fiancee so his friends, who never met the girl, arrange a tea party for him. Understandably they are on edge wondering what to say, but there is more to their unease: Diane and Paul, John and Evelyn, and Marge and her husband is perpetually out of circulation with trivial illnesses are all kept together by a mixture of business and cross marital emotional ties. By the time Colin arrives for tea, their tenseness contrasts dramatically with his air of cheerful relaxation. He is the only happy one among them and his happiness and insensitive analyses of their troubles causes each of them to break down.


The play is early Ayckbourn, written with a depth of understanding not always present in his later formulas. In this central idea, of old friends giving a tea-party to console one bereaved former member of their set, the situations are funnier but more poignant, the dialogue crisper and more penetrating, the inter-reactions more sharply and subtly defined.
New director Alison Brett handles the comedy aspect with confidence and insight and if the sadness that lies at the heart of the play is largely glossed over in favour of easy laughs, her relatively inexperienced cast are patently happier with the balance tilted in this direction. Pride of place in the acting honours clearly goes to Lesley Mercer whose domesticated Marge, is the most assured performance, and whose whole body language points up the character effortlessly. She also creates the left-at-home, accident-prone husband at the end of the telephone in almost tangible terms. Everyone else catches the essence of their character well enough without quite all the timing that would extend them to full-blown realisation. Tracy Amoss’s laconic, almost monosyllabic Evelyn has a nice line in surly ungraciousness. Debi Koval’s hurt, suspicious Diana builds to her hysteria with a blend of good manners under strain and betrayed wife under pressure. Charles Padgham’s glowering Paul suggests the trapped resentment of the guilty husband suitably. Altogether a useful learning experience for the society’s talented team of “youngsters” and one that the audience enjoyed a great deal.
Jimmy James

A triumph for young talent

FOR the last production of their current season, the Manningtree-based Manifest Theatre Group has chosen Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends. This was yet another triumph for these talented amateurs and producer-director Alison Brett can be justifiably proud of the result by the hard-working team both on and backstage. It was particularly enjoyable for those who have followed the development of some of the group’s younger members, this being the first time they have filled the cast, produced and directed.
It was a rather strange play – a comedy but not really having any jokes. The laughter came from the expressions, the odd word, the timing of answers and inflections of voice. All the action was confined to one room on one afternoon when a seemingly ill-assorted group of five friends entertained another friend they had not seen for some years.

Only six performers took part – three make and three female and it was definitely the women who shone the brightest. The trio of Debi Koval, Lesley Mercer and Tracey Amoss were wonderful, the latter just stealing top spot. Although having the least amount of dialogue, the eyes of the audience were always drawn towards Tracey’s gum-chewing character, who was apparently disinterested in all around her, apart from magazines she studied throughout. They were well supported by Charles Padgham, Chris Mead and Chris Mason.
Lesley Pallett

Photo Shoot

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