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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

New Era Theatre Club - Absent Friends

29th November to 1st December and 4th to 8th December 2012.

Here is the NWN review.

A tea party-and-a-half

New Era Players excel in Ayckbourn's dark 1970s comedy

New Era Players: Absent Friends, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday, November 29 to Friday, December 7

Alan Ayckbourn wrote Absent Friends in 1974 - it's one of his darkest comedies and quite a challenge, but New Era players, under the skilful direction of David Zeke, have created an excellent production.

The play is firmly set in the 1970s, with a convincing detailed design of geometric wallpaper, cocktail bar, spider plant and even a trim-phone by David Zeke and Jane Read that created the up-market executive home of Paul and Diana.

Lisa Harrington and Maddy Winter had sourced vintage costumes, gaudy dresses and flared trousers that cleverly evoked the period.

They had invited some friends to a tea party to help cheer up Colin, who had recently been bereaved when his fiancée Carol was drowned in a tragic accident.

Gum-chewing, sullen Evelyn (Vikki Goldsmith) had arrived early with baby Wayne. She really didn't want to be there and spent most of her time reading a magazine. Her hyperactive husband John (Neil Dewdney) was constantly on the go - he couldn't sit down or settle and had a phobia about death. His obsessive behaviour dominated his character.

Kathleen Ray perfectly captured the anxious hostess Diana who was convinced that her husband Paul was having an affair and her marriage was teetering on collapse. Nigel Winter was terrific as her husband, the foul, fanatical squash-playing, self-made businessman who was most certainly unfaithful.

Shopaholic Marge, engagingly played by Anne Oldham, was childless and concentrated all her efforts in looking after her ailing accident-prone husband Gordon who continually phoned to give updates on his health; "a one man casualty ward". She was always saying the wrong thing, with hilarious results.

They were all dreading the arrival of Colin, a splendid performance from David Tute, who they hadn't seen for many years and they weren't sure what to say or how to console him.

He was surprisingly jovial - not grief-stricken - and had brought photographs of Carol to share, much to the excruciating embarrassment of his friends.

Home truths were revealed as layers of their lives were slowly peeled back. We discovered that Paul and Evelyn had a fling on the back seat of his car which she described as "being as exciting as been made love to by a sack of clammy cement."

In desperate frustration Diana poured a jug of cream over Paul and she broke down at the realisation that her life and marriage was in tatters.

All six actors gave sterling performances in this sharp bitter-sweet comedy and the audience loved it.