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REVIEW: Absurd Person Singular at the Everyman Theatre


Everyman Theatre

Absurd Person Singular
by Alan Ayckbourn
Tuesday 3 August 2021


It is usual, in any review of an Alan Ayckbourn play, to tip one’s hat to the maestro’s prolific output.  Ayckbourn’s dramas, like the yew trees in Painswick churchyard, are legendarily difficult to count.  Estimates vary, but there are at least 80 of them, dating back to The Square Cat in 1959.  Given that the Bard of Scarborough shows no sign of putting down his quill, the next one should be along any minute now.

In the meantime, we can enjoy London Classic Theatre’s hilarious revival of one of Ayckbourn’s most enduring and popular plays, Absurd Person Singular (which won the Evening Standard Award for best comedy in 1973).  Set over three consecutive Christmas parties, the play is a superb blend of black comedy, high farce and social satire.
  
On one level, Absurd Person Singular is a comedy of manners.  It charts the rise of the arriviste Hopcrofts and the decline of their social superiors, the Jacksons and the Brewster-Wrights, on whom the Hopcrofts fawn before subjecting them to table-turning humiliation.  This is sweet revenge for the condescension of alcoholic snob Marion (Rosanna Miles), who sneers at the Hopcrofts’ fly spray: “What a gorgeous smell!  Such a waste on flies.”
  
On another level, the play concerns relationship failure, examining how couples in emotionally barren marriages struggle to connect, or even to begin to understand one another.  As twice-married Ronald (Graham O’Mara) bleakly observes, “I’ve never to this day really known what most women think about anything.”  Casual cruelty and emotional neglect abound.  Self-described “sexual Flying Dutchman” Geoffrey (John Dorney), slyly foists responsibility for his own infidelity onto his wife: “If you’re sitting there, blaming yourself in any way …”.  Like the buildings that dodgy developer Sidney Hopcroft (Paul Sandys) throws up, all three marriages are structurally unsound.
    
On a third level, Ayckbourn addresses the enduring struggle with middle-aged, middle-class despair.  Some of the most darkly comical moments involve the other characters’ failure to notice the silent, suicidal cris de coeur of Eva (Helen Keeley): for example, Eva’s attempt to gas herself is taken by compulsive-cleaner Jane (Felicity Houlbrooke) as her cue for a spree: “I’ll clean this oven if it kills me”.
    
The play is set in the early 1970s, and the set (designed by Simon Scullion) is a glorious riot of orange formica and violently-patterned wallpaper.  The male characters’ discussion of female physical attributes, and their casual misogyny (“She lives by my rules”) reflect the attitudes of that decade.  The play – almost 50 years old – is a fascinating social document: a product of, and a glimpse into, the particular mores of the times in which it is set.
    
Tautly directed by Michael Cabot, Absurd Person Singular is a comedic tour-de-force.  It abounds with cracking one-liners, running gags and hilarious off-stage characters (including George, a dog “the size of a yak”).  The excellent cast never lets the pace drop or the energy flag, and the two-and-a-half hour running-time (including interval) flies by.
  
 Absurd Person Singular runs at the Everyman Theatre until Saturday, 7 August.


Explore Gloucestershire 2021
Paul Sharples
4 August 2021


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