Absent Friends ranks among his best and in the hands of the London Classic Theatre company it delighted Derby Theatre audiences last week as part of a national tour.
As with much of Ayckbourn, it demonstrated acerbic and devastating humour laced with dark undertones at its core.
Here we have three marriages at various stages: Diana and Paul hanging by a thread after 12 years, Evelyn and John fundamentally unsuited and Marge mothering her hypochondriac husband and finding solace in her latest pair of must-have shoes. The fact that Evelyn and Paul have had an affair adds fuel to the flames.
When they learn that Colin, an absent friend, has lost his fiancé, it is decided to invite him over but a well-intentioned tea party descends into chaos. Nobody quite knows how to approach Colin but he is the sole person who seems euphorically happy while the rest have tensions and problems.
As relationships unravel, Colin unveils a talent for happily and unknowingly putting his foot in it. He bids a cheerful farewell, completely unaware that he has left his friends contemplating the lost tracks of their relationships.
There were no star names in this cast but all were highly competent and Ashley Cook made the most of the tasty role of Colin.
Photo by Sheila Burnett.