Absurd Person Singular

Alan Ayckbourn
The Stephen Joseph Theatre Company
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Ben Porter and Laura Doddington in Absurd Person Singular Credit: Robert Day

For the past four decades Absurd Person Singular has proved a big hit both in the West End and on Broadway.

While other Ayckbourn plays have won more awards, Absurd Person Singular has had more support at the box office.

Its first West End run lasted 27 months, while it’s been revived three times since then. The comedy has also been well received in the US where it had an 18-month run on Broadway.

Now, as the play celebrates its 40th anniversary, Ayckbourn is directing this new version which started its life in Scarborough and is currently entertaining visitors to the New Vic.

There’s a dark side to Absurd Person Singular which can be underplayed if the director is going for the maximum number of laughs. Here, though, Ayckbourn is willing to sacrifice a few guffaws to bring out the more sinister side of his work.

This is particularly evident in the character of Eva Jackson, the suicidal wife who makes several attempts to do away with herself.

Ayckbourn has Ayesha Antoine play her with the look of a heavily sedated woman whose death wish is mistaken by everyone around her as they fail to notice a succession of suicide notes.

The laughter comes when she jams a knife into a table drawer and prepares to run at it; and her resigned acceptance at not being able to take her life, which manifests itself in her curling up in the dog’s basket.

Absurd Person Singular is set in the 1970s in three different kitchens on three successive Christmas Eves as three couples from differing social classes hold parties.

Ayckbourn puts them into situations which really take them out of their comfort zone.

A social-climbing contractor who makes his nervous wife even more on edge; an amorous architect whose philandering has devastated his long-suffering partner; and a banker whose spoilt spouse descends ever further into drunkenness all go through big changes from the first to the third act.

Ben Porter makes a good impression as Sidney Hopcroft, the socially unskilled businessman who becomes so successful that by the end of the play everyone else is literally dancing to his tune.

Laura Doddington is equally good as Sidney’s wife Jane, a bundle of nerves early on but later comfortable with a change in status brought about by her husband’s money.

Richard Stacey makes the most of going from a self-centred chauvinist to obediently taking orders from his wife while Ayesha Antoine cleverly abandons her depression to become a confident, controlling woman.

The successes of the night, though, are the Brewster-Wrights. Bill Champion marvellously depicts the initially totally disinterested banker Ronald who is clueless about anything vaguely practical. He is reduced to a shadow of himself in the third act when he can’t afford to heat his rambling house.

Sarah Parks exquisitely portrays his wife Marion, snobbish and bemused by the workings of kitchen appliances in the first act, delightfully drunk later on as she can’t face up to living in a changed world.

You may see funnier versions of Absurd Person Singular but there’s a deeper, more ominous side to this production—just as the playwright and director intended.

Reviewer: Steve Orme