Absent Friends is a modern comedy written for the stage. Its humor comes from the situations and actions of the characters. The setting is an afternoon tea party, thrown by a group of five “friends” for an old acquaintance who recently lost his fiancÃ©. All of the characters are an exaggeration of dislikeable traits in everybody”s personalities; John, the workaholic who cares more for money than comfort, Paul the stereotypical self-dependant man and Evelyn, the slut succumbing to her own desires despite her husband and child.
You also have Marge displaying the obsessive compulsive disorder that annoys everyone in some way and Dianas suspicious, neurotic attitude reminding everyone of someone they know and dislike. The play moves at a steady pace with the burlesque personalities keeping the audience interested, until the character Colin is introduced. His arrival has been discussed by the characters, yet he enters at perhaps the most inconvenient time. Diana and Paul are having a heated argument over Pauls affair, and Evelyn declares “To Hell with him” when told she can”t leave due to Colin arriving.Order now
This captures the audience”s attention, so far the only facts about Colin revealed is that he last these people three years ago, and that his fiancÃ© drowned two months previously. From this it is simple to assume he will be a quiet character, sullen and not much of a contributor to the plot. However, he turns out to be the complete opposite of what is expected. His egotistical speeches bring up the wrong thing for every situation in this play. He talks about past relationships, how very nearly it was him rather than Paul with Diana, and constantly flirts with Evelyn.
This alone makes his appearance entertaining for the audience, Paul and Dianas recent argument over Pauls relationship with Evelyn provides an awkward situation, perfect for making an empathetic audience feel for the characters, and to take much more of an interest in what is going to happen. It is important to keep an audience”s attention captured throughout any performance, be it a speech, competition or play. As a speech needs emotive language to grip the listener, a play needs things to happen with a good pace to stop the viewer becoming bored.
In Absent Friends it is possible to say that nothing interesting does happen, if anything really happens at all. There are plays such as Shakespeare”s “Hamlet”, full of treachery, murder and angst or musicals consisting of death and romance such as “West Side Story”, both of these immortalized in film to entertain generations to come, while both were originally written for the stage. But what happens in Absent Friends? There are no demented lovers or exhilarating sword fights, only a group of people having tea together.
The real action in the play comes from the issues and relationships between the six characters. A great deal of empathy is needed to really appreciate the happenings of this play. It is based on situations people hear about every day; affairs, false friendships and death. The characters ways of dealing with these situations and how their own personalities affect the others around them is what provides “Absent Friends”s equivalent to “Hamlet”s betrayal and “West Side Story”s forbidden romance.
Dianas breakdown at the stress of Pauls affair and her need to make her lunch perfect, Evelyns cold sense of indifference to the hurt she knowingly causes people, Marges stress of trying to make sure everyone is cared for whilst trying to give advice to her sick husband down the phone. These are what provides the interest and humor for the play, an audience able to somewhat relate to these characters have a better understanding of what the playwrite Alan Ayckbourn is trying to make them laugh at.
The male characters of the play; John, Paul and Colin, have very strong personalities. John is a business man, throughout the entire play he is trying to engage Paul in talk about business, despite being told Paul doesn”t want to listen. He feels awkward at the prospect of talking to Colin, he says to Evelyn “Well, I hope he hurries it up. The we can get it over and done with. ” this blatant discomfort at discussing death gives the audience something to laugh at, his “jiggling about” on stage, along with anybody feeling awkward is laughable.
Paul is perhaps the only true stereotypical character, his need to always be right and disregard of dependence on others is indicative of his inability of being an unpredictable and original character. He is more of a set up than true character, his arguments with Diana and attempts to avoid Evelyn give places for the play to turn to, before it has even started Paul provides a major turning point, his affair with Evelyn allows plenty of tension right from the beginning.
Finally there”s Colin, his arrogant nature and tendency of bringing up best forgotten memories putting the already fragile relationships under serious strain. These strong temperaments all help the play move quickly, comedic situations along with the audiences sympathy for the victims of the negative traits easily gained. Each of the characters have hatable characteristics, but is it possible to like any of them? Evelyn is a moody, rude adulteress, Diana is neurotic and paranoid, and Colin is a conceited idiot.
The interest and comedy of the play depends on the audience relating with the six characters, if they were difficult to understand or were boring with blank personalities, it wouldn”t work. But if the viewer is meant to be relating to them, can they afford to be hated? It is important for a hated character to have a reason for being so, Shakespeare”s creation “Macbeth” is driven to murder after hearing a prophecy, and we follow his decline into an evil monster.
While none of the “friends” go to such dramatic lengths at any point, they all become worse people the closer to the end they get. Diana pours a jug of cream over Pauls head for a small joke he says, Marge becomes glued to the phone, paying more attention to her fully grown husband than the people she is currently with, and Colin who only has half the play goes from a bloke who always thinks he”s right to an insensitive prat embarrassing Paul and himself.
As I mentioned before, Paul isn”t really capable of true character development, but the negative aspects become more obvious. At the very beginning of the play he says to Diana, Evelyn and Marge “The mothers meeting is it? ” When it is known Marge can”t have children. However, the actual audience only learns this fact later on, so Pauls insensitivity is not noticed so early in the play. The true friendships in this play are missing in the way that nobody is truly honest with anybody else, and old friendships have been forgotten.
Though Paul tells John he slept with his wife, a mark of friendship, the fact remains he went behind his wife”s and friends backs. As for Colin, Evelyn doesn”t know or care for him, and Pauls response to being told he is visiting is “Colin who? ” and an argument with Diana. The play is based on the situations the six characters find themselves in, and if there was a true friendship between them the play would need a completely new storyline. The lack of a positive relationship between any of the characters is what brings the action and humor to the surface for people to enjoy.