LONDON Classic Theatre's production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends is an important one for the celebrated touring company, marking its 15th anniversary.

You can see it at Windsor's Theatre Royal until Saturday this week, before it continues its progress across the country.

The play - dating from 1974 - certainly offers a useful introduction to the work of the legendary Sir Alan.
Two unhappily married couples and their friend await the arrival of an old chum they have not seen for years. He has recently lost his fiancee in tragic consequences but arrives full of bounce and optimism - totally oblivious to the bleak atmosphere he has stumbled into.

Nobody creates the comedy of social embarrassment as well as Alan Ayckbourn. But unfortunately this production simply does not do the play justice.

The problem is that the director Michael Cabot seems to have encouraged the cast to play their parts as if they were appearing in a farce by Ray Cooney.

Chronically nervous John's inability to sit still is much commented on by other characters in the play. But in this production John (played by John Dorney) hurls himself frantically about, while twitching violently as if he suffers from Tourette's Syndrome.

Shopoholic, shoe loving Marge (Susie Emmett) - constantly on the phone to her hypochondriac husband at home - and monosyllabic young mum Evelyn (Kathryn Ritchie) would not be out of place in the television sit com Benidorm in this production. While gormless, endlessly nattering Colin (Pete Collis) is never allowed to lose his constantly inane 'bright eyed and bushy tailed' comedic expression.

Kevin Drury as selfish faithless husband Paul and Lisa Burrows as his angry, despairing wife Diana are allowed to be a little more restrained. He is convincing as a selfish, bullish high achiever with no regard for the needs of those around him, while she handles her big, tragic moment with aplomb.

Only Alan Ayckbourn would allow a genuine on stage nervous breakdown to bring tragedy into a play which has been riotously funny up to that point. But it does not have the effect it should it should when the cast has been in cartoon mode for so long.

The show captures the look of the 1970s well, thanks to set and costume designer Simon Kenny.




Absent Friends is on at Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday. Visit

It then runs at South Hill Park from October 13-14. Visit