Main photo: The cast of Absent Friends (clockwise from left) Donna deVouge, Julie Brushey, Jamie Jordan, Matt Huddlestone, Jenn Creasor and Drew Hutcheson (Photo: Alastair Dunlop)
Get ready for some deliciously dark comedy. So says John McTavish who, with his wife Marion, is producing and directing an upcoming run of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Absent Friends.
McTavish is a huge fan of the British playwright. “He knows how to put the knife in but he does it in such an entertaining way that you almost don’t mind being stunned, being hurt by it,” says McTavish.
“It’s not sitcom humour,” he adds, “which is probably why he’s not as popular as Neil Simon and people like that in North America at least. The humour is organic. It’s not one punchline after another. (Ayckbourn) develops characters in such a way that they become intrinsically interesting and humorous… He never disappoints.”
This isn’t the first time McTavish has staged an Ayckbourn play, and he even wrote about The playful genius of Alan Ayckbourn. “In order to really appreciate his work, you have to play it for the truth not the laughs. The laughs are all the more richer and deeper if played in truth and not hammed up,” he says.
A dark comedy about death, and our collective desire to avoid talking about it, Absent Friends is truthful stuff. “It’s a different kind of laugh, because it’s pretty serious,” says McTavish.
At the heart of the story is Colin, whose fiancée has recently drowned, and whose ‘friends’ throw a tea party in an attempt to cheer him up. But those friends have fractured relationships and issues of their own to contend with, made all the more apparent by Colin’s happiness in the wake of his beloved’s death.
Don’t shy away from the topic, says McTavish. This is dark comedy at its best. “We have a really good cast and we are dealing with one of the greatest playwrights of our time.”
Supporting the cast is Alastair Dunlop on lighting and sound; Ian McTavish, Liam Martin-McTavish, Sue Taylor, Sydney Taylor and Patrick Taylor with set design; and Justine McDonnell, Sonny Allinson and Jim Miller with props and properties.
Because John and Marion want theatre to be accessible, tickets for Absent Friends are just $15, available at Castle Antiques (30 Main Street E) or via Trinity United Church (call 705-789-5660).
Absent Friends will run November 14-18, 2018 at Trinity United Church with 7:00 p.m. performances on the first four nights and a 2:00 p.m. matinee on the final day.
For a taste of Ayckbourn’s humour, McTavish recommends watching a clip from another of his plays, like this one from Table Manners:
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