Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes about Absent Friends were written by Alan Ayckbourn in 2012 in response to the West End revival of the play, directed by Jeremy Herrin.

An Author's Notes on Absent Friends

Don't tell the men this (!) but it's play very much about the women, isn't it? I didn't remember quite how angry I was at the time on women's behalf regarding their social lot. Their menfolk treat them in Absent Friends quite appallingly, either as domestic servants, disposable replaceable sexual objects or else negotiable social chattels.

Evelyn is probably the saddest, because she's younger than the others and is still in there fighting, though I think in her heart she has secretly accepted that it's all a bit of a lost cause. She's already chained herself to the house with a child she had too early, half an education, unqualified and clinging on to a crappy part time job. Future prospects nil. Saddled with a no hope husband with half her intelligence, the ultimate non-provider who was tacitly complicit through his silence in her brief sexual session with Paul - droite de seigneur is alive and well in Pendon! All her hopes now rest in Wayne, God help him!

Marge from the older generation, is still deeply mired in it's-the-men-who-rule belief, who are there to be supported by their women-folk like some glorified service industry. This is, almost certainly, an attitude imbued in her by her mother both by example and instruction. The innate deference that she and Diana show towards men and their opinions (even though those opinions are frequently and quite clearly wrong) at the time it was written had the proto-feminists in the audience steaming with

Ironically, I was frequently accused of being anti-women, but only by those who missed the irony and mistook the audience laughter for approval. Hopefully when seen from today's perspective those section will regain some of their intended irony. Marge is the most compliant of the three women, accepting her lot and she has taken to hiding behind a brave smile and an 'aren't-I-a-scatty-daft-little-thing' act. Something my mother incidentally used to adopt when in male company even though she had a mind as sharp as a buzz-saw. Used to drive me nuts, that!

Diana, unlike Marge, has found no such outlet but in a sense is a more 'foreground' figure in that her feelings and motives are more clearly documented, pouring out ultimately in her passionate Act II breakdown speech. Her protective shell is a fragile one and she feels that she's being attacked from all sides, her decaying marriage, the loss of her children and now this latest episode with Paul and Evelyn has left her feeling completely isolated and panicked.

In truth, Colin has walked in on a series of accidents ready and waiting to happen. Not a person you'd normally invite to tea, only his peculiar set of tragic circumstances has given him a protective suit of armour, albeit a temporary one. And through which he is permitted to reach out and tinker with each of them in turn, peering at them and the world through his rose-coloured distorted lenses.

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