Funny way to play it nasty

(L-R) Charlie Potter, Alice Corrigan, Chris Vanstone, Mark Wakeman, Paul Millington and Sarah Parnell.
(L-R) Charlie Potter, Alice Corrigan, Chris Vanstone, Mark Wakeman, Paul Millington and Sarah Parnell.
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Alan Ayckbourn is heavily associated with comedy, but some of his work can be surprisingly sad. Absent Friends has been described as the saddest thing he’s ever written, and Bench Theatre is performing the play from Thursday until Saturday, and April 30 until May 4.

But Jacquie Penrose, who is directing the Bench production, believes it’s actually one of his funniest.

She says: ‘It’s hysterically funny but we are not playing it for laughs. I have told the cast not to use any gags.

‘We have to play it with total seriousness, and if we don’t give the audiences a lump in their throats, we will have failed.

‘We are going for nasty. It’s betrayal, disappointment, disillusion. It’s heartbreaking.’

The play is set in the home of Diana and Paul, a warring couple hosting a small tea party to console friend Colin.

After a trip away Colin has returned to his circle of friends and they are worried about how to approach him over the death of his fiancée, Carol, who has drowned.

The characters all have a lot of tensions with each other, but Colin seems utterly happy while the rest of the party are near breaking point to keep the conversation going. (‘Do you like your tea milky?’ says Diana. ‘Yes… but don’t drown it,’ replies friend Marge.)

Playing hostess Diana is Alice Corrigan, voted Best Actress in the 2011 Guide Awards and Best Adult Actress at the All England Theatre Festival.

Mark Wakeman is playing Colin, who notably played Macbeth for Bench Theatre in the past.

Sarah Parnell, who was his acclaimed Lady Macbeth, plays the childless Marge, and the cast is completed by Paul Millington, Chris Vanstone and Charlie Potter.

Tickets cost £6 to £8 from The Spring, Havant, on (023) 9247 2700 or go to thespring.co.uk. (It’s buy one, get one free for shows on April 25 and 30.)