After opening it's doors for the Autumn season earlier this week, The Mission Theatre's resident Next Stage Theatre Company, took to the stage with Absent Friendsby patron Alan Ayckbourn. A triumphant opening night saw the theatre filled with returning and new theatre goers for a brilliant evening of Ayckbourn vintage comedy. Below are reviews from Phil Horton (The Bath Chronicle) and Petra Schofield.
Absent Friends – Alan Ayckbourn
The Mission Theatre Bath
Written in 1974 this razor sharp comedy hits home in all the right places. The excellent company relish each barb and silence with great control and the result is a triumphant start to the autumn season for Next Stage Theatre Company.
Under the direction of Ann Ellison this Ayckbourn classic is honed to perfection. Set in real time and in one place, a rare treat for Ayckbourn scripts, we meet Diana, Marge, Evelyn, Paul, John and Colin. The event is afternoon tea for Colin as he has been recently bereaved and the friends gather to support him. As usual the cracks and chasms in the marriages and relationships of the friends are never far from the surface and the reality of life just gets in the way. Performances are strong and characters are painfully real; full of human failings and dreams wasted.
Caroline Groom (Diana) heads the cast as the hostess whose unfaithful husband Paul played with brutal force by Brian Hudd has broken all her dreams and hopes. Marge (Annabel Chater) is desperate to be loved and needed in her endless caring role whilst the bumbling Colin (Andrew Ellison) is thrown clear of the hardships of relationships due to his bereavement. Ayckbourn manages to distil so much in the short passage of time. The pressures of caring, bringing up children and life have different effects on the gloriously monosyllabic Evelyn (Georgi Bassil) and John (Michael Stevens) whilst being poles apart they seem to have the least secrets.
This is a great work and reflects Ayckbourn at his best, a tight and well drawn analysis of human nature; well worth a visit.
Next Stage production directed by Ann Ellison
The Mission Theatre, Bath
September 5th to 9th, 7.30pm: matinee 2.00pm Saturday 9th
Although written in 1974, this production feels quite contemporary. Perhaps bittersweet domestic dysfunction is always with us and that human condition is one which Ayckbourn has always been able to nail.
Colin’s fiancee has drowned recently so his friends rally round and invite him to a tea party, thinking to cheer him up. However, the boot is really on the other foot; it's their lives that are in freefall to disaster while Colin remains cheerfully content with his lot.
Monosyllabic Evelyn has just had a disappointing fling with host Paul, a serial philanderer and bully. When asked about it by friend Marge, Evelyn explains, “If you want to know who else, pass me the phone book ‘cos he's half way through yellow pages by now.”
Marge’s unseen husband is usually ill, while Paul's put upon wife Diana is gradually building up to a breakdown while Evelyn’s twitchy other half, John, accepts her infidelity as part of normal life. Meanwhile oblivious Colin chatters on, eating his sandwiches and putting his proverbial foot in it.
It is a perfect production where the cast never strike a wrong note. If you like Ayckbourn you'll love this.