Monday, 29 June 2015

Interview: Ashley Cook, starring in Absent Friends

Ashley Cook is currently starring as Colin in the UK tour of Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn.

Directed by Michael Cabot, London Classic Theatre’s production continues until 18th July 2015. Last seen in the West End in 2012, Absent Friends explores friendship, marriage and what it ultimately means to be happy. 

Ashley previously appeared in London Classic Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. His extensive theatre credits include: King Lear (Old Vic/English Touring), The Mousetrap (St. Martin’s), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Belgrade), Romeo and Juliet (Derby), A Doll’s House and The Importance of Being Earnest (Lincoln Theatre Royal), She Stoops to Conquer and The Daughter-in-Law (Perth Theatre) and The White Carnation (Finborough/Jermyn Street).

On screen he has appeared in The Basil Brush Show and Patrick Hamilton: Words, Whisky and Women. I recently spoke to Ashley about what makes Colin such a fun role to play, why the show is different each night and how audiences have been responding…

How familiar were you already with Absent Friends?
I have to say, I didn’t know anything about it! I only read it for the first time when Michael (Cabot, director) and I started talking about it. 

What were your first impressions?
It’s such an interesting play because of how well the darkness and the comedy are balanced. When you get under the skin of it there really is a lot going on with those characters. Alan Ayckbourn balances all the comic moments with tremendous sadness and poignancy. 

I think Colin is my favourite character!
[laughs] It’s a great role! He doesn’t come in until page twenty-one, which means I spend a lot of time in the dressing room, but it’s great when you play a character which everyone has been building up. 

Following the death of his girlfriend everyone expects him to be the most depressed, but he turns out to be the most stable of the lot!
People aren’t quite sure what he’s going to be like but then, as you say, he comes in and is totally over his fiancé’s death. Obviously it was very sad at the time but he’s ok and comes in like a ball of energy and they’re all so embarrassed because they don’t know whether to mention it. He does take the audience by surprise!

What can people who don’t know the play expect? There’s more to Absent Friends than first meets the eye…
Well first of all anyone who knew the 1970s will be able to go back and really remember what that era was like. Michael and Simon Kenny, the designer, have been so authentic to the era. From an audience point of view sometimes you don’t know when to laugh and when to cry. Every night people say to us after the show, “I didn’t know if I should have laughed at that moment or felt really sad.” It’s whatever you want to take from it – if you want a really good laugh there are some hilarious moments with Ayckbourn’s perfect timing, but also beneath the surface it’s about these characters and three relationships which are really not in a very good state. None of them are having a good time which brings out some hilarious comedy, but it’s also very sad.

Ayckbourn has written six strong characters, are you all having fun with your roles? Has it been different each night?
Yes – oh gosh absolutely! You never know really what audiences are going to respond to. After being in the rehearsal room, when you’re in front of an audience you never really know when the laughter is going to come. Every part of the country that we go to people react in different ways which I think is so interesting. Ayckbourn really knows how to write comedy, so as long as you play those characters as truthfully as possible the laughs will come. There are certain beats that you have to hit, if that makes sense. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Absent Friends tours the UK until 18th July 2015, visiting Margate, Tunbridge Wells, Derby and Cheltenham. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Sheila Burnett

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