I gave up working for a living when I decided that there was more to life than spending six hours around a table debating the relative merits of computer systems I neither understood nor cared about. And I gave up writing theatrical reviews for the local paper when the fourth spear carrier’s distant aunts sent in vituperative letters lamenting little Johnny’s omission from my piece. Pressure, who wants it? Hence this private blog, where I can say or do what I want. Or so I thought.
A few folks who should know better have been lurking in Harpenden High Street and springing out to give me the odd mugging for not posting a piece on Absent Friends. Remember that? Directed by my wife for a society of which I am a member. Posted a preview (see below) and that was meant to be my last word on the subject. Saying anything the slightest bit complimentary and the boys of Wheathampstead Players and Dunstable Rep would be around with sharpened knives. Pen anything derogatory and whilst some would applaud my obvious honesty, not applicable to anything nice, that refined lot at the church players would pierce me with knitting needles and icy glances. Ever had an icy glance from Harpenden ladies of a certain age? It cuts deeper than any Wheathampstead knife.
So, on the basis if you can’t swim don’t jump into the water I decided to give this one a swerve. Pity really, as this play about a girl, Carol, who did something like that and inconveniently drowned I probably know better than anyone else who saw it. Hence the protests. I saw the original ‘in the round’ production at Scarborough in 1974, directed an amateur production of it in 1978, and both acted in and directed another production about ten years ago. I know my Ayckbourn and I know my Absent Friends. I may not be an expert but my ignorance is well founded.
With that sort of theatrical baggage it is hardly surprising that I both liked and disliked what I saw. I liked the staging, a good attempt at creating the original ‘in the round’ feel, and I liked the leading actor. Lewis Cox’s hapless Colin hit the other characters around the head with his absent and dead Carol with a relentless energy both funny and disturbing. One could not help thinking it should have been him who fell off the boat. We never saw Carol, just the five warring friends who, inadvisably, invited her bereaved to tea. It is a simple premise with oodles of Ayckbourn subtext and tension. The players gelled nicely and their performances were all watchable, if mixed in expertise and delivery. As, no doubt, will be the local knives.