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Absurd Person Singular

Alan Ayckbourn
Garrick Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

If ever there was a playwright who "does what it says on the tin" it is Alan Ayckbourn. He has now written some seventy plays and often seems to be using a tried and tested formula that may not always be terribly challenging but gets laughs and delights audiences up and down the country.

Absurd Person Singular, written 35 years ago, is as good an example as any. It takes three couples on three consecutive Christmas Eves and uses them both as exemplars of type and also like pawns in a carefully planned chess game.

While Ayckbourn's characters may not have great depth, they do allow the playwright to address his favourite issues of sexual politics and social mobility from a series of different viewpoints.

Beyond an ability to characterise middle class mundanity, the Scarborough-based playwright has two real strengths. He is effortlessly able to write fantastic one-liners and enjoys a talent for creating hilarious situations that seem as fresh today as they must have been first time around.

In Absurd Person Singular the curtain rises on the tasteless kitchen of the Hopcrafts, an upwardly mobile couple who by the end of the mini-trilogy put fear into the hearts of the guests at this first festive party.

Jane, an obsessive compulsive cleaner, is played impeccably by Jane Horrocks who catches the sense of manic activity without quite taking it over the top into caricature. Her husband, David Bamber's Sidney, is a crushing bore, who at one point manages to pack a single breathless sentence with ten consecutive clichés.

Their unlucky visitors are acquaintances whom Sidney believes will be useful to him as in his ambition to transform from shopkeeper to entrepreneur.

David Horovitch plays Ronald Brewster-Wright, the kind of gentleman bank manager who disappeared with the advent of a new cut-throat corporate culture. He is a decent type if wholly unsuited to his job and has his hands full with his wife Marion. She is played by Jenny Seagrove as the kind of upper-class bitch who speaks with the strangulated tones of a duchess and has an abiding fondness for gin.

If one ignores the lives and souls of each party, the never seen Dick and Lottie Potter, the other couple involved are randy Scottish architect Geoffrey (John Gordon Sinclair) and Lia Williams as his manic depressive wife Eva.

The social comedy in this first act is largely centred on poor Jane's vain attempts to avoid embarrassment, which leave her outside in the pouring rain for the whole evening.

The second act moves from the tidiest kitchen in existence to the worst, a stripped pine monstrosity belonging to the Jacksons. This time, the now catatonic Eva moves centre stage, making no fewer than seven attempts to commit suicide in a tour de force cameo from Miss Williams, who has to work very hard to keep the straightest of suicidal faces.

By the end, all of the guests are doing DIY, creating great comic moments. first with an angrily wet David Bamber and then an electric David Horovitch.

The final knockings take us to the converted church occupied by the posh Brewster-Wrights. Without central heating, this becomes a frozen hellhole but with a dipsomaniac hostess and the guests from hell trying to make their way in, there is still scope for a great deal more laughter.

While Absurd Person Singular is on the surface a light, farcical comedy that seems somewhat dated, the shifts in fortunes of the Hopcrafts in one direction and the other two couples in another, say much about the period, as do the power struggles within each married couple.

This impression of what is now a historical era is consolidated by the efforts of designer Michael Pavelka, to whom it is a compliment to say that the garish costumes are truly hideous and the kitchens ghastly.

Absurd Person Singular is good quality Christmas fun and will provide enough entertainment, thanks to a tremendous cast well directed by Alan Strachan, to fill the Garrick through the holiday season.

Visit our sponsor 1st 4 London Theatre to book tickets for Absurd Person Singular.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher