You know that guy at parties that just talks out of his ass all night? The expert on everything – including yourself – never afraid to give his opinions and always happy to fill awkward silences?
Colin (Darren Gilshenan) is that friend. Returning to his local neighbourhood after the death of his fiancé, childhood mates Diana (Michelle Doake), Paul (Richard Sydenham), John (Brian Meegan), Marge (Queenie van de Zandt) and John’s newish wife Evelyn (Jessica Sullivan) assemble to welcome Colin back.
None of them want to be in the company of one another and certainly not Colin who goes from being a ‘best friend’ in Diana’s memory to a hated man in Paul’s recollection. Throughout the play all bumble around trying not to offend by keeping out of one another’s way.
Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends could just as easily be called Awkward Friends because it’s unclear whether these characters are capable of maintaining close friendships. All have drifted apart – husbands and wives included – to the point where white lies are necessary to keep the peace and all despise one another for at least a dozen reasons.
Mark Kilmurry and assistant director Jo-anne Cahill have done a brilliant job orchestrating this team of strangers; their direction, enhanced by the very capable cast’s performances, keep tension just right in this comedic tragedy. From Meegan’s constant twitching to van de Zandt’s incessant fussing, and Doake’s over-compensation for any unfriendliness.
Queenie van de Zandt steals the show with her performance of Marge. From start to finish, the audience is drawn to her detailed characterisation and it goes without saying that van de Zandt is a comedic genius.
Ayckbourn’s British play effortlessly transfers to 1970s Australian suburbia and the play feels close to home regardless of era because families and friendships well and truly haven’t changed. They’re still absent, awkward and terrible communicators.
Glen Street Theatre is a beautiful home for this touring Ensemble show. Watch Absent Friends to be reminded that your own social leprosy is normal.