Absurd Person Singular, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

THERE are few things about the stresses and strains of Christmas that Alan Ayckbourn hasn’t chronicled. Our most prolific playwright has used the traditional gathering as the setting for many of his plays, and the first one was Absurd Person Singular, now almost 50 years old and on tour in a production by London Classic Theatre.

This one is set last year, this year and next year (in the early 70s) in the kitchens of three couples, and immediately pre-dates Ayckbourn’s most famous trilogy, The Norman Conquests.

As LCC director Michael Cabot writes in the programme, the playwright’s focus is on class, and not just the middle-classes perceived to be his core audience. He understands the intricate nuances of a societal system that Lady Thatcher proclaimed did not exist – and she should know!

It starts in the humble, but proudly cleaned, abode of Sidney and Jane Hopcroft, entertaining the local bank manager and architect at a Christmas Eve drinks party.  Next year it’s the turn of the architect Geoffrey Jackson, a wetly charismatic womaniser, and his neurotic pill-popping (and suicidal) wife Eva. And by this year Sidney’s business is booming.

The final scene, in the “kitchen” of the unworldly bank manager Ronald Brewster-Wright and his dipsomaniac wife Marion, sees Geoffrey heading fast for financial ruin, a newly confident Eva finally needed by her feckless husband, Marion confined to bed with a bottle or four and Ronald in freezing denial. Enter Sidney and Jane, flushed with Christmas spirit, gifts and SUCCESS.

It might be dated but its observations of human nature are as keen as ever, and Cabot brings them all out with his excellent cast – John Dorney, Felicity Houlbrooke, Helen Keeley, Rosanna Miles, Graham O’Mara and Paul Sandys.

The final moment leaves its audience in suspended animation, with the cast. It’s brave and strange.

In the middle of its tour, LCC’s 20th anniversary production of Absurd Person Singular is at Bath until 4th September, at Winchester Theatre Royal from 21st to 25th September and  Exeter Northcott from 5th to 9th October.

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