COMMENTARY: Absent Friends, like so many of Ayckbourn's best early plays, is a comedy of modern manners. Behind the surface humour is a shrewd analysis of suburban mores, disillusion and despair. Ayckbourn is skilled at creating situations and characters that have both comic and sad elements which reveal the pain of everyday life and blighted relationships. The put-upon women in Ayckbourn's plays are presented with understanding and compassion. In Absent Friends the issues of death and deceit are given a laughable gloss. This is a darkly hilarious play.