TITLE: Absent Friends
PLAYWRIGHT: Alan Ayckbourn
PERFORMANCE DATES: 27th - 29th October 2022
DIRECTOR: Nicki Clay
Diana - Helen Lawley
Evelyn - Nicki Clay
Marge - Julia Birkett
Paul - Geoff Stockill
John - Trevor Britain
Colin - Mike Waters
Click HERE for production programme
SYNOPSIS - ABIGAIL'S PARTY
Diana has organised a tea party for Colin, an old friend of her husband Paul. Colin’s fiancé has recently drowned and the aim is to cheer him up with a gathering of old friends Paul, John and Gordon. Gordon is, typically, ill and his wife Marge turns up instead, while Paul and John are less than enthusiastic about the party.
CHAIR’S PRODUCTION NOTES
Putting on a production involves many people and it is down to the enthusiasm, support, experience, commitment and friendship within the group that makes all the time and hard work so worthwhile. There were several occasions when this production may well have not gone ahead, and it is thanks to the determination of the director, Nicki, who spent many hours reading lots of plays until she eventually found one that worked for the dynamics of the group.
After having acted with several other groups around Yorkshire (due to various house moves), it took me a while before I found The Monday Players, and I have spent 17 years being very proud to be a part of a great group of people who come together to produce fabulous theatre.
This year we have welcomed new members Carol Drinkwater, Nigel Fisher, Niamh McKeating and Doreen Marsh. If you are interested in joining The Monday Players, on or off stage, or both, please get in touch and come along to a play read or rehearsal. You will be very much welcomed.
There will be a donation to York Cancer Trust, which will be facilitated by the raffle proceeds.
Finally, thank you to all our sponsors who have been kind enough to advertise in our programme and to our audience for your continued support and patronage. It is, as always, greatly appreciated.
I hope you enjoy our play.
With best wishes
Linda (Vice Chair)
Not going to lie… it’s been quite a journey to get here! I had been very excited to be directing another Ayckbourn – Time of my Life – an absolute diamond of a play. Alas, due to an unexpected shortfall of both the younger female and male variety, I had to rethink my plans, and quickly! A further five one-acts and three full plays were perused, considered, and discarded, until I came full circle and went with my leaning towards Ayckbourn. Having directed Absurd Person Singular back in 2015, I do worry why I feel such a connection to his frustratingly warped and dysfunctional characters! Perhaps they are so far removed from anyone I know (or are they?) that they excite me, draw me in to their quirkiness, and obvious vulnerabilities.
Absent Friends is described as a play, not a comedy. Cheap laughs you will not find, but the clever Ayckbourn humour is present throughout, bringing relief to an undercurrent of loss and despair; excruciating pauses illuminate the awkwardness in the room … you will laugh, of that I am certain. Friends, absent from the get together, permeate the room, yet friends, present in the room, are absent! It is regarded as one of Ayckbourn’s most popular plays, a regular on the AmDram circuit, and with frequent professional revivals all over the world. It was first performed in 1974 at The Library Theatre in Scarborough, with a cast including Peter Bowles, Richard Briers and Phyllida Law, and subsequently made into a ‘Theatre Night’ TV play with Julia McKenzie, Tom Courtenay, Maureen Lipman and Hywel Bennet.
It is set in the present day (at the time of writing, the early 70s), however, I needed to differentiate from our previous production of Abigail’s Party which was set in the late 70s. Ayckbourn expressed his intention that within the play, the unequal roles of male and female be exposed. The wife/mother very much subservient to her husband; little time outside of the home to pursue her own ambitions and individuality. Identity and self-worth are lost. Evelyn, however, is a ‘new woman’, determined not to be ineffectual as she observes Diana and Marge to be. I decided that I could set a little later, mid-80s… big hair, double denim, shoulder pads and knitted cardis – nice! Even though women had progressed slightly, pushing forward to become a little less in the background, a life outside the home, sadly not all were in such a position, nor felt strong enough or supported by their husbands to do so. History had dictated a woman’s place in society, especially within the home - Diana and Marge are still only homemakers, yet to fly free!
Absent Friends is a simple play on the surface, no whizzy effects, scenery, or gimmicks, yet it is clever, frustrating, and intriguing. I decided to stage the play in a studio style space – different from any other production, I didn’t want scenery, excess set furniture, elaborate styling. It is all about the characters, their personalities, the social dynamics, and their conversations. Having our audience seated on tiers, I hope it will make the space more intimate, everyone a little closer to observing this dysfunctional bunch of fabulousness!
At this opportunity I want to express my sincere thanks and affection to my wonderful cast. It has been a hard slog at times but with giggles a plenty. I appreciate their tenacity to stick with it, tolerating my exacting demands! Enjoy it you fabulous bunch of people. Thanks also to my amazing production and rehearsal team, your dedication and support has been key in getting to this point. Finally, a special thanks to Linda Baillie, she has been my right-hand woman throughout this journey, stepping into a cornucopia of roles, often with little or no warning, and enabling me to both direct and act for this production. I owe you!
I hope you enjoy Absent Friends!
Photos taken by Nancy Waters