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Jeremy Herrin to direct stellar comedy cast in Ayckbourn classic Absent Friends

Friday, 9 December 2011

Previewing at the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly the Comedy Theatre) from 26 January 2012. With press night on 9 February Absent Friends, produced in the West End by Sonia Friedman Productions and Bob Bartner, is currently booking until 14 April. Designs are by Tom Scutt with lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Ian Dickinson for Autograph.

When Colin loses his fiancée, his married friends invite him round for comfort over tea and sandwiches. As the tea starts to pour, it's clear that trouble is brewing with a wickedly funny blend of jealousy, infidelity and barely concealed loathing. Tension starts to boil and maybe Colin isn’t the one who needs help… with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Absent Friends premiered in 1974 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and received its London premier a year later at the Garrick Theatre. Sonia Friedman Productions has previously produced Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests which, following its sell-out run at the Old Vic, transferred triumphantly to Broadway in 2009.

Katherine Parkinson (Diana) is best known on television for playing Jen in the Channel 4 series The IT Crowd, a role for which she won the British Comedy Best Actress Award. She is soon to be seen on BBC 1 playing Conceptiva in The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff alongside Robert Webb. Her theatre credits include Pattie in Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings at the National Theatre, Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal at the Barbican as well as roles in Cock and The Seagull for the Royal Court and Other Hand and Flush for Soho Theatre. Her other television credits include Doc Martin, The Old Guys and The Great Outdoors. Her film credits include St Trinian’s II: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, The Boat that Rocked, Easy Virtue and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Reece Shearsmith (Colin), a quarter of the hugely successful award-wining comedy team The League of Gentlemen and co-creator and writer of the BBC’s Psychoville, has recently completed a run as Gilbert Chivers in Betty Blue Eyes. Previously he has been seen on stage in Ghost Stories at the Duke of York’s Theatre, Comedians at the Lyric Hammersmith. Shearsmith also played Leo Bloom in The Producers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane as well as Jacques in As You Like It at the Wyndhams’ Theatre and Yvan in Art at the Whitehall Theatre. His other television credits include the critically acclaimed Catterick (Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s BBC road trip comedy series), Channel 4’s Spaced and Horrible Histories. His film work includes Burke and Hare, The Cottage, Birthday Girl, Shaun of the Dead and The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse. in which he stared and co-wrote.

Elizabeth Berrington (Marge) was last on stage playing Bev in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party at Hampstead Theatre and in the West End. She will next be seen on television playing Paula in the BBC 1 Christmas Eve comedy, Lapland. On television her more recent credits include food technology teacher Ruby Fry in Waterloo Road, Dr Who, Crimson Petal and the White, Psychoville and A Touch of Frost and well as playing Marie-Antoinette in the French and Saunders series Let Them Eat Cake. On film her credits include In Bruges, Nanny McPhee, A Cock and Bull Story, Onegin and Mike Leigh’s Naked and Secrets and Lies.

Kara Tointon (Evelyn) has most recently played Eliza Doolittle to great critical acclaim in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre alongside Rupert Everett and Diana Rigg. Tointon is best known on television for playing Dawn Swann in EastEnders, a role she played for four years. Other television roles include Bedlam, The Bill and Dream Team. Her film credits include The Last Passenger, The Sweeney and Just My Luck. Tointon was the winner of the 2010 Strictly Come Dancing series.

Steffan Rhodri (Paul) can currently be seen in The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre. On television he is best known for playing Dave Coaches in Gavin and Stacey. His previous theatre credits include Clybourne Park for the Royal Court and Abigail’s Party for Hampstead and The New Ambassadors Theatres. Other TV includes roles in Crawford Park, Belonging, Wire In The Blood and Tales From a Pleasure Beach. His film credits include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ironclad, Submarine and Ali G Indahouse.

David Armand (John) is best known for his roles in the TV sketch shows Sorry I’ve Got No Head and Fast and Loose, as well as The Peter Serafinowicz Show, Peep Show, Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show and The Armstrong and Miller Show. His stage credits include The Secret Policeman’s Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, Local for the Royal Court Upstairs and The Hollow Man: A Tribute and Live at the Lounge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His other television credits include How Not To Live Your Life and Pulling. His film credits include Elizabeth: The Golden Age and St. Trinian’s.

Jeremy Herrin is Associate Director of the Royal Court where he directed the UK premiere of David Hare's The Vertical Hour as well as Richard Bean’s The Heretic and Polly Stenham's award-winning That Face which subsequently transferred to the West End. His other recent theatre credits include Much Ado About Nothing starring Charles Edwards and Eve Best at Shakespeare’s Globe earlier this year and South Downs for the Chichester Festival Theatre. Herrin will direct Joe Penhall’s Haunted Child for the Royal Court opening in December this year and in 2012 he will direct Matthew Dunster’s Children’s Children at the Almeida Theatre.

Olivier and Tony award-winning playwright Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 75 plays, over half of which have been produced in West End as well as on Broadway. Ayckbourn was Artistic Director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough from 1972-2009 and was an Associate Director at the National Theatre from 1986-88. He was awarded a CBE in 1987 and in 1997 was knighted for services to the theatre.

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