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A CurtainUp London London Review
Absent Friends


All men think that theyíre experts with women. By the time they are, theyíre too old to do anything about it. — Evelyn
Absent Friends
Katherine Parkinson as Diana, Reece Shearsmith as Colin and Elizabeth Berrington as Marge (Photo: Simon Annand)
Alan Ayckbournís refreshing social comedies on the darker side of dysfunctional human relationships are ideal for Londonís West End audience looking for a laugh out loud evening. His observation of the human condition is second to none drawing out every piece of humour from the ridiculous in our behaviour.

In Absent Friends a group gathers having invited their longtime friend Colin (Reece Shearsmith) to tea. Colin is recently bereaved, his fiancťe Carol having been drowned and despite their best intentions, the group cannot help putting their collective foot in it with remarks accidentally alluding to death and drowning. Add to the tea party mix that Diana (Katherine Parkinson)ís husband Paul (Steffan Rhodri) has had a brief affair with Evelyn (Kara Tointon), which Diana has discovered, and you have a potentially explosive mix.

Marge (Elizabeth Berrington) is there to smooth over things while fielding phone calls from her cack handed accident prone and dependent husband whom we never meet. Evelynís husband John (David Armand) has a knack for buying everything cheap which then doesnít work or doesnít fit that straight faced Evelyn tells us about sarcastically.

Jeremy Herrinís production set in Diana and Paulís 1970s sitting room has some cracking performances from the cast. Kara Tointonís beautiful Evelyn is especially memorable. She has a throat clearing snort which punctuates the ridiculous remarks of others but sits looking at us with a permanently negative sneer on her face, horribly candid and unpleasant. Tointon acts her part, often without words as her face says it all. John tells us that she has no sense of humour. She is a common, trophy wife with a horrid personality and brilliantly played by Kara Tointon.

Katherine Parkinsonís fraught Diana is at the end of her tether with her arrogant, abusive husband, Steffan Rhodri looking a little like a blond Alan Rickman, and she keeps leaving the party to disappear upstairs to get a grip. We are reminded that she once had the choice between the handsome looks Paul and the handsome does, benign but boring, Colin. Elizabeth Berringtonís Marge takes up cudgels on Dianaís behalf. Lace into this mix David Armandís twitchy and hyperactive John and a civilised tea party descends into an altogether darker comedy.

Tom Scuttís affluent living room set and costumes are gloriously tacky 1970s in detail, dangly jewellery and bright turquoise eyeshadow for Marge and Diana. Underlying each of the characters, except Colin, the one with a real tragedy, is an unhappiness, a sense of the unfulfilled: childless Marge, bored Evelyn, distressed Diana, womaniser Paul and cuckolded John, set in the materialistic 70s.

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Absent Friends
Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Starring: Kara Tointon, Katherine Parkinson, Reece Shearsmith, Steffan Rhodri, Elizabeth Berrington, David Armand
Designed by Tom Scutt
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7627
Booking to 14th April 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on the 7th February 2012 performance at the Harold Pinter (formerly The Comedy) Panton Street, London SW1 4DN (Rail/Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

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