Review: Absurd Person Singular

‘Absurd person singular’, Alan Ayckbourn’s most famous play, follows the lives of three couples over three years, at three different Christmas parties, in each of their respective kitchens. (Much in […]


‘Absurd person singular’, Alan Ayckbourn’s most famous play, follows the lives of three couples over three years, at three different Christmas parties, in each of their respective kitchens. (Much in keeping with Jona Lewie’s first hit record of 1980, written just 8 years later no doubt.) Some couples rise in fortune, some fall.

It features characters whose lives can best be described with words beginning with m: middle-class, marital, material and mundane. The plot is bare and relies on the charisma of these m-oriented characters. It requires acting that’s believable and entertaining, and direction that’s zappy. This production unfortunately did not meet with requirements.

The actors had little in the way of comic intuition or timing. There is of course a fine line between playing annoying characters in a funny way, and annoying characters in an annoying way. And the line was clearly too fine to be detected by this cast. Rhona Frood and Janet Richardson played the overbearing housewives Jane and Marion with sighs and moans so excessive and shrill that they became less presences to laugh at than to grind your teeth over. It was also impossible to tell at any given point whether Michael Lewis’ character, Sidney, was supposed to be goofy or stern, or nice or even malicious. The other male characters were done well if not grippingly, and Sarah Thompson’s Eva did manage to endear the audience to her with her morbidly comic attempted suicide sequence. (But perhaps this worked because it emulated how the audience was actually feeling by this point?) A bit less overacting, and a more focused direction would have been beneficial.

Like Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’, this play about marital hell was no doubt appreciated in the seventies, when this theme of bored, unhappy spouses was still a relatively novel one. Sadly though, this production seemed to suggest that ‘Absurd person singular’ should probably have remained in the seventies. Although Ayckbourn fans may enjoy this production from a strictly literary basis, it would indeed be most absurd and singular for a person to recommend this latest offering of the Byre’s to anyone new to his work.

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If you’d like to check it out yourself, ‘Absurd Person Singular’ will remain at the Byre until the 10th, showing at 7.30pm every night for just £8.