Absent Friends: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play Absent Friends by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"[Absent Friends] is the clearest example of him [Ayckbourn] pushing at the boundaries of what he could do and what an audience would take in terms of subject matter…. He would write a miniature, a play in which 'nothing happened' except for some very charged conversations. He would write a play in 'real time' so that there was no fast-forwarding to cut out the boring bits; this is the most extreme example of his fundamental narrative principle that you start your play as late in the story as you can without confusing the audience (it is the principle Aristotle much admired in Oedipus Rex, though the comparison is not often made). It would also be a play about death."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide to Alan Ayckbourn’s Plays, 2004, Faber)

"I feel he [Ayckbourn] has a marked compassion for women. His plays are all about blighted lives. But whereas you feel he has little patience with the thrusting, bustling males, he constantly sees married women, in particular, as people whose lives have been irreversibly damaged through little fault of their own. He is not condescending or patronising towards them as a sex. He merely endorses Joyce Cary's observation that every woman's life is, in some sense, a tragedy."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"You've heard of light comedy? This is light tragedy showing Ayckbourn digging deeper than ever before into marital misery (Diana's breakdown is real) and outsider-ish incomprehension. Ayckbourn has also preserved in aspic a classic character: the cheerful wrecker. And, although the play is anchored in a comfortable, bourgeois modern world, one can see it making sense to an audience 50 or 100 years hence. As long as there are people who carry disaster about with them, in the way others carry some rare disease, and all the time think they are doing good, the play will still be relevant. Simple in form, it is powerful in effect. Through nervous, edgy laughter, it shows Ayckbourn suggesting that the friends are indeed those who are usually absent."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"Absent Friends after all isn't like any of the other plays - it's a play about death, which seems to have taken over from sex as the taboo subject in our lives…. Put like that it must sound very gloomy but it's not - it's appallingly funny."
(Richard Briers - actor, The Times, 19 July 1975)

"Alan's curiously difficult (to act): very economic, very disciplined, never a word too many so you have to play him as tightly as he writes…. He also goes in for very abrupt changes of mood, and the gear shifts are like the ones in a racing car - you have to listen very carefully even to recognise them."
(Richard Briers - actor, The Times, 19 July 1975)

"I liked [reading] Absent Friends very much. I laughed uncontrollably and disturbed several well-meaning passengers in my railway train. It has made comedy out of the last great taboo left - death."
(Sir Peter Hall, correspondence, 9 July 1974)

"Colin's life is entirely wonderful, and he does not begrudge his friends their happiness, he tells them, because he has had, with Carol, the perfect relationship, as Ayckbourn suggests that the perfect relationship, all a matter of memory and the mind, need not stand the test of time. Death has made Colin a happy man."
(Albert E. Kalson: Laughter In The Dark, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"The social satire, and the sense of thoughtless cruelty of people to each other, especially within families, comes out even more strongly in [Absent Friends].... Absent Friends is mainly a study of the way people can deteriorate in marriage. It also shows how well-meaning but insensitive people, trying to help others, can easily upset them further - a favourite Ayckbourn theme."
(Oleg Kerensky: The New British Drama, 1977, Hamish Hamilton)

"In its blend of humour, precision and poignancy, it [Absent Friends] is quintessential Ayckbourn, and ensured that with the simultaneous running of The Norman Conquests, Confusions, Absurd Person Singular, 1974 would prove to the dramatist's annus mirabilis of this decade." *
(Dominic Shellard: British Theatre Since The War, 1999, Yale University Press)

This isn't an accurate statement, if it is presumably relating to the West End. In 1974, Alan Ayckbourn had Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests playing in the West End. In 1975, these plays were joined by Absent Friends - leading to the playwright breaking the record for having the most plays running simultaneously in the West End. Confusions did not reach the West End until 1976 (although it premiered in Scarborough in 1974) when The Norman Conquests and Absent Friends were also in the West End.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.