Bolton Little Theatre stage Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends

The theatre will be kick starting their 2024 season with ‘Absent Friends’ from January 20 and 27.

The story centres on Colin’s friends who have decided he needs comforting following the death of his fiancée, although none of them have met her.

But his friends have their own issues- Paul and John are in business together, but John suspects Paul has had an affair with his wife, which he won’t mention in case it ruins their business relationship.

Evelyn is openly critical of the other women and what she sees as their ‘conventional lifestyle’, while Marge’s husband is permanently laid up with a variety of suspected illnesses-so perhaps it’s they who need his help.

Another Ayckbourn gem dissects the world of a group of close friends -and what they really mean to each other.

Director Frances Clemmitt said: “After Shakespeare, he is, I think, Britain’s most performed playwright and certainly our most prolific, with over 80 plays to his name.

“Absent Friends is about a group of old friends who decide their mutual friend ‘Colin’ – played by Andrew Gradwell – needs their help following the sudden death of his fiancée.

“But when he arrives, he certainly doesn’t behave as they expected!

“It’s the first play Ayckbourn wrote set in ‘real time’.

“The action takes place across two and a half hours one afternoon – the same time period that we’re watching it.”

Sue Mallett, who plays Diana, said: “It really is a brilliant description of six different characters.

“My character thinks hosting a tea party is the best way to help Colin, but it soon becomes less about Colin and more about their own complicated relationships…!”

Diana’s husband ‘Paul’, played by Craig Harris, is in business with ‘John’ another of their circle of friends – but things are strained between then, both on a business and personal level.

The tension is heightened by John’s wife ‘Evelyn’ played by Rebecca Carney who is slightly contemptuous of Diana and the other wives.

The gathering is completed by ‘Marge’ played by Lindsay Farnworth who is childless and spends most of her time nursing her frequently poorly husband Gordon, who we never see, almost as though that were a replacement for mothering.

The afternoon prickles as these five friends catch up with each other while they sit waiting for Colin.

Frances added: “I’m very fortunate to have such an experienced cast.

“They’ve all appeared many times on stage, both at Bolton Little Theatre and other societies.

“The only new-comer is John Tyrer who plays ‘John’ – but he’s had plenty of experience elsewhere, so the production really is in very capable hands I’m pleased to say.”

Other plays  in the season include Marton McDonaugh’s unexpectedly hilarious ‘Hangmen’ in March, Amanda Whittington’s ‘Players Angels’ in April, Ira Levin’s fabulously dark ‘Veronica’s Room in May and ending the season with the entertaining ‘Allo Allo’ in June. 

‘Absent Friends’ runs from Saturday January 20 to Saturday January 27.

Shows will be at 7.30 pm with a matinée performance on Sunday, January 21 at Bolton Little Theatre, Hanover Street, Bolton BL1 4TG.

For tickets visit or ring 01204 524469. 

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The Bolton News | Theatre