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Absurd Person Singular

Published 17 April 2008

With enough comings and goings through doors to give even Boeing Boeing a run for its money, Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular begins as a farce centred on a people-pleasing suburban couple who throw a Christmas Eve party. At the end of the three acts the playwright has delved beneath the farcical façade to dissect the dark emotional make-up of three couples. Caroline Bishop was at the first night at the Garrick.

They say Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year, spiralling some people into depression and illness through a combination of too much drink, food and being stuck in the same room as your loved ones for far too long. Absurd Person Singular does nothing to dispel this theory, such are the conflicting emotional stresses and strains of this comedy’s six characters.

Sidney and Jane (David Bamber and Jane Horrocks) are the first couple to throw a Christmas Eve party, a party which, in true farcical style, does not go as smoothly as they hope. Sidney is a wiry, moustachioed small-time businessman and emotional bully, whose aim for the party is to network his way up the greasy pole. His wife, Jane, is highly strung to the point of snapping, obsessed with cleaning and so eager to impress her invited guests that she winds herself into a state of near-hyperventilation.

Enter the reluctant guests: posh neighbours Ronald and Marion (David Horovitch and Jenny Seagrove) – him a pompous dinosaur and her an unapologetic snob who covers her disdain for Sidney and Jane’s humble abode with a thick layer of insincerity – and hippy couple Eva and Geoffrey (Lia Williams and John Gordon Sinclair), whose marital problems seep out right from the start.

The farcical interaction between these six characters in the first act sets up the next two, played out on successive Christmas Eves, first at Eva and Geoffrey’s house, then at Ronald and Marion’s place, each year revealing a new, darker twist in the couples’ relationships, simmering under the comedy. The action takes place in each kitchen, which acts as a retreat for the characters from the unseen goings-on in the sitting room, involving a fourth couple whom we never see, and a rather large dog.

Michael Pavelka’s impressively detailed sets and Tara Cole’s early 1970s costumes all help to reinforce the marked differences between the couples, which become more extreme as the play goes on. But, though they may not like each other much, the unhappiness that each character increasingly reveals brings them together in a reluctant, mutually-dependant friendship. em>CB

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