Absurd Person Singular

Alan Ayckbourn
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, and touring
(2008)

Publicity graphic

Three couples meet for a Xmas party on three successive years, last year in the lower middle class house, this year in the ambitious architect's house, and next year in the bank manager's.

What we see is the kitchen, while the party is going on behind the kitchen door, with the Potters, whom we never see, entertaining the ladies with jokes. Ayckbourn produces a series of stereotypes, more stereotypical than the unoriginality they represent.

Jane (Sara Crowe) has to have everything ultra-clean and tidy, while her husband Sidney (Matthew Cottle) times the party to exactitude, making the most of an opportunity to utter cliché upon cliché to interest the bank manager in his building developments. Concurrently, Geoffrey (Marc Bannerman), the architect, pops into the kitchen to describe his wonderful design which would be superb if only the builder followed his instructions; and that goes for his wife, Eva (Honeysuckle Weeks), as well. Meanwhile Marion (Deborah Grant) ostensibly impressed by the style of the kitchen and its fittings - including the 'apartheid washing machine' (Whites and Coloureds) - grumbles to her husband Ronald (David Griffin) who sits reading the book of instructions for the cooker, evidently only managed by their Mrs Minns, and they manage to escape from the party to get an adequate supply of alcohol.

This year, the kitchen is more bedraggled, and Eva spends her time writing suicide notes and almost achieving success, until her wish to put her head in the gas oven is interpreted as a need to clean its begrimed interior when Jane arrives, and takes over that duty, while Sidney fixes the drain under the sink and Ronald tackles the electric fitting, ending up fitting when the light is inadvertently switched on.

Next year it is Ronald and Marion who provide the venue, a grim cold kitchen with no heating, either calorifically or emotionally, until once again, Sidney and Jane turn up, now the successful business man and Lady Bountiful with Xmas gifts for the downtrodden.

The audience was in fits of laughter, and rightly so, set off by the bizarre behaviour of all the characters, playing their exaggerated roles to perfection. But underlying the Xmas jollity, a sad pattern of life was demonstrated. Perhaps it would not go down too well in recent days in Bridgend, nor to an audience of Samaritan volunteers or alcoholics anonymous.

Reviewer: Philip Seager