Absent Friends: Character Notes by Alan Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn rarely writes detailed notes about his characters, however there are some brief notes in the Ayckbourn Archive relating to Absent Friends. As with the majority of Alan's plays, it is always worth considering the period when they were written and how society (particularly in its treatment of women) has changed. The 1970s were a significant crossroads for British women with housewives such as Diana and Marge the norm with the 'new' woman only just beginning to make her mark. It is for reasons like this that Alan believes these pieces are now period plays and should be played in the correct period for them to work as intended.

Diana is a woman approaching the 'change'. She's reached the end of what she sees as her useful life. A life she has devoted to her husband, her home and her children. Now her children have been (in her own words) taken away from her - i.e. sent to a boarding school. Her husband is having affairs and her home without the children and husband is an empty monument to a suddenly empty life.
The seventies were the turning point. Women were still divided into those who worked and those who didn't. Diana doesn't work because she is married to a man who would see her working as a sign of weakness; that he was unable to provide adequately for his family.
Many women in the seventies were brought up by their mothers too believe their responsibility was first and foremost to husband and family. I think they were only "the wrong things" [as Diana says] for Diana because they didn't work out. She'd have been perfectly happy to be a wife and a mother only she's not been allowed to pursue either function. Her children have been sent away and her husband is never there.

Marge, on the other hand, has a husband who has stood by her and, presumably, a reasonable home. But her husband is a spoilt child, a perpetual invalid whom she is destined to nurse, probably for ever. Her lack of a child is very significant. Maybe she has even encouraged this role in Gordon. She's regretting it now, if she has! Marge does her best to cope. To make the best of things. She finds most of he comfort through her female relationships. I don't think her male relationships are much happier than Diana's. Both women have attempted to live the lives of good wives. Supportive and secondary.

Evelyn is of a different generation. Although a wife and mother (and tied to the home) she is determined not to be reduced to the level of (as she sees it) the ineffectual helplessness of Diana and Marge. She's made of stronger stuff. She may lack romance. She's a hard-headed realist. Her kid won't grow up with many dreams. But nor will he nurture any false illusions. her sleeping around is just a sign of her determination to stay her own woman.
She despises the conventional female attitudes express by Diana and Marge. She is, if you like, an early example of the "new" woman. One who didn't automatically go along with the accepted subservient attitude to men. She's not stupid. She has no interest in making an impression. It's probably a straight-forward reaction to what she sees going on around her. I have a suspicion she's going to be a very good mother.

With regards to Colin, Alan also wrote this summary of the character and the effect he has on those around him:

The best love is the one you never attain, the unfulfilled love. Colin loses his love at that vital moment and thus it remains, as it were, frozen in perfection. Albeit an artificially perceived perfection. The other characters in the play are aware of this but are unable to dissuade him from his quite unrealistic view. Eventually, of course, in their attempts to put him right, they become even more aware of the imperfections in their own loves.

In the September 1975 edition of Plays And Players, Alan also talked about the character of Colin:

Colin has gained this immunity through having been touched by tragedy. He's like a man you've always detested being suddenly struck with an incurable disease; as everyone knows he has only six months to live, gestures of courtesy and tolerance are offered when, in normal circumstances, a fourpenny would have been forthcoming. Colin's immunity is something he doesn't really deserve.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of Alan Ayckbourn.