Kings Theatre, Southsea: Revival of classic Ayckbourn by London Classic Theatre

Absent Friends
Absent Friends

London Classic Theatre celebrates 15 years as a touring company with a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends.

Tour dates include the Kings Theatre, Southsea from May 26-27.

“I founded the company back in 93,” says artistic director Michael Cabot, “and then we launched as a touring company in 2000. I started it, I think, being a young director fresh out of drama school and impatient to get work. I wrote letters to everyone in charge of any building that remotely called itself a theatre trying to get a job, and when I didn’t get anything, I decided to set something up myself.

“It’s such a risky business in so many ways, and it has been a hell of a journey to get to this point. If I had known what I was getting involved in back then, I might not have done it! Sometimes ignorance is definitely bliss!

“I suppose the main problem has always been probably to try to balance the ambition of the company with the commercial reality. That has been the fundamental issue. We are not a funded company. We have never been funded by the Arts Council or anybody else, so we have always had to cut our cloth according to our budget. We have had to make things commercially viable, and in the early years that was a hard graft. You just have to challenge yourself all the time to make things work, always to get the best of our everyeone, and I have always been very lucky with the people I have worked with. We have always tried to stay one step ahead of ourselves. We have always tried to be flexible. One night we might be playing a 100-seater studio theatre; the next night a 1,000-seater main house. You just have to try to make it work wherever you are.”

But in fact, there might be advantages to not being funded. As Michael says, sometimes you can see Arts Council-funded companies producing quality work – but work that no one particularly wants to see: “In a way, this is terrifically liberating. I wake up every morning, and I am my own boss. I choose the plays I direct and hope enough theatres book us to make it viable. And if you build up trust with the venues, then that will happen.”

Michael was delighted to put on a long tour of Equus – something he would never have dared dream possible when he started out, but thanks to the name the company has built up, it became perfectly possible.

And so now to the Ayckbourn: “I think the 70s were often seen as a bit of a dead zone for drama though there were some terrific plays written. But I think they were also the time that Alan Ayckbourn was at his absolute peak. He was breaking great new ground, and for me, I think this is the play that sums that up. He has a reputation for being quite safe and middle class and quite gentle, but there is actually real savagery in the way he examines marriage in this play. It’s brutal out there.

“That was when Ayckbourn hit the ground running in allowing these things to happen. He always takes risks. You think of Abigail’s Party as this comedy of awful embarrassment, the first in that repertoire of the clear, naturalistic approach. But Absent Friends was three years before that. Ayckbourn had been there before!”