‘Gated communities’ are new to me. The idea of locking yourself away in a self-contained complex separated from the rest of the world, protected from the hideous reality of life outside, had been as absent from my mind as an interloper from one of these communities in which April De Angelis’s new comedy Amongst Friends is set.
Politician-turned-author Richard (Aden Gillett) and columnist Lara (Helen Baxendale) removed themselves to this armoured apartment six years ago, when Lara’s fear of the outside world became too much. Having not contacted their old neighbours for the entirety of that time, a dream – more of a necrophilic nightmare in fact – inspires a dinner party reunion.
Tensions are already as high as the couple’s apartment – which, care of designer Patrick Connellan, offers a stunning view of the city below – when the party is gatecrashed by Shelley (Vicki Pepperdine), an outsider from the local estate with a supernatural plan for making money.
When the two couples come together it does pose the question ‘Why were they friends in the first place?’ Baxendale’s highly-strung, elitist, bile-spitting Lara is a world away from Emma Cunniffe’s touchy-feely, caring Caitlin; and Gillett’s calm, considered Richard seems to have nothing in common with James Dreyfus’s cynical, bitter, drug-using drugs counsellor Joe. Even their clothes – Baxendale in clingy, neck-high dress, Cunniffe in a low cut floaty number – mark their differences.
Yet friends they were. But that was six years ago. There is little pretence of kindly familiarity in this diner party, with the more spiteful of each pair going straight for their counterpart’s jugular.
The introduction of a real outsider into the mix in the form of Pepperdine’s crass, brash, often vulgar Shelley, however, is what moves the production from simple dinner party comedy to an exploration of the characters’ guilt about how they treated those less fortunate than themselves: Richard’s political decision about army equipment, Lara’s lambasting in her column, Caitlin and Joe’s treatment of a young addict.
In the end, a ‘gated community’ may throw up superficial boundaries against the real world, but whether it be an outsider posing as a takeaway delivery person or the fact that walls can only stop physical intruders, it is impossible to escape the reality and its plethora of problems.