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A CurtainUp London Review
In Absent Friends a group gathers having invited their longtime friend Colin (Reece Shearsmith) to tea. Colin is recently bereaved, his fiancée 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)’s 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. Evelyn’s husband John (David Armand) has a knack for buying everything cheap which then doesn’t work or doesn’t fit that straight faced Evelyn tells us about sarcastically.
Jeremy Herrin’s production set in Diana and Paul’s 1970s sitting room has some cracking performances from the cast. Kara Tointon’s 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 Parkinson’s 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 Berrington’s Marge takes up cudgels on Diana’s behalf. Lace into this mix David Armand’s twitchy and hyperactive John and a civilised tea party descends into an altogether darker comedy.
Tom Scutt’s 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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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