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Q&A: Absent Friends

Published 6 February 2012

Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy about six friends and a tea party that goes horribly, and hilariously, wrong opens at the Harold Pinter theatre this week, so Official London Theatre decided to find out whether any of the star-studded cast have had to endure an evening of torture at a disastrous party.

Absent Friends’ Elizabeth Berrington, Katherine Parkison, Kara Tointon, Steffan Rhodri, David Armand and Reece Shearsmith told Charlotte Marshall about their less than desirable characters, the novelty of getting to eat free sandwiches every night and who they’d invite to their dream party.

Describe your character in six words.

Berrington: In two words – ‘a feeder’.

Parkinson: Disappointed, lonely, diligent, bitter, correctly suspicious.

Tointon: Honest, miserable, sarcastic, abrupt, cutting, unsociable.

Rhodri: Cocky, dissatisfied, empty (bad, sad, mad).

Armand: Deluded, irritating, ineffectual, amoral, obsequious, dishonest.

Shearsmith: Needy, selfish, overbearing, fantasist, odd, lonely.

Are you anything like your character?

Berrington: I am fearful I might become Marge one day.

Parkinson: No!

Tointon: God no!

Rhodri: There are times when I’ve felt like him, but I try not to behave like him.

Armand: I hope not (see previous answer).

Shearsmith: I hope not, I am much more shy and unassuming.

Who do you call when you need a friend?

Berrington: My sister.

Parkinson: A friend!

Tointon: My family (mum, dad and sister).

Rhodri: One of several people that I trust with my life.

Armand: Jennifer Aniston or David Schwimmer

Shearsmith: 118 118

What is the worst party you have ever been to and why?

Berrington: Thankfully [I was] too tipsy to remember.

Parkinson: My 15th – some gate crashers stole all of my mum’s jewellery.

Tointon: A wrap party I braved going to on my own years ago. After arriving I couldn’t find anyone I’d worked with, it was awful. A man with a tray of brightly coloured shots walked by so I took one and gulped it down. I was only young and had never tried a shot before. It was so strong I couldn’t breathe for about five seconds. If you’d seen me huddle into a corner to gasp air and regain consciousness it would have been quite funny, but not at the time as I thought I needed an ambulance!

Rhodri: Most babies’ first birthday parties are unbearable.

Armand: Probably my 4th birthday party. I fell off a swing and cut my chin open.

Shearsmith: After-show parties of shows that haven’t gone down very well are pretty grisly affairs.

Which six people (dead or alive) would you invite to your tea party?

Berrington: Choosing the deceased option, I’d love to have tea with my mum and dad once again, but no one would be sad. Just a fantastic catch-up and cuddle.

Parkinson: Bob Carolgees, Harry Redknapp, Freddie Starr, Sylvia Plath (next to Freddie Starr), Carol Thatcher and Larry Hagman.

Tointon: Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Rupert Everett, Goldie Hawn, Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper.

Rhodri: Reece Shearsmith, Kara Tointon, Katherine Parkinson, David Armand and Jeremy Herrin [Director of Absent Friends].

Armand: Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Keith Floyd and Fanny Cradock. At least the food would be good.

Shearsmith: Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and Jack the Ripper (just so it’s not all comedy chat).

What is your favourite moment during the show?

Berrington: The ‘drowned moment’.

Parkinson: What I shall describe as ‘the cream moment’.

Tointon: Probably ‘the cream moment’.

Rhodri: Just after I say “What started that?”

Armand: Free tea and cucumber sandwiches every night.

Shearsmith: Drinking tea and eating sandwiches is still a novelty at this stage. That may change after a couple of months!

How will you be spending your days during the run of the play?

Berrington: School run, jog in park, back to bed.

Parkinson: Relaxing, I hope!

Tointon: Trying to be proactive, getting fit in the gym.  Oh, and lots of lunches (which will probably counteract all my good work in the gym).

Rhodri: Meeting friends, trumpet practice, yoga, swimming.

Armand: I have a new baby due during the run, so I imagine I’ll be busy-ish.

Shearsmith: Writing a new TV series for BBC2 with Steve Pemberton.

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