Absurd Person Singular

Written by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Fiona Burless

Known for such successful comedies as The Norman Conquests and How The Other Half Loves, Alan Ayckbourn presents a particular type of comedy-the witty farce-comedy with a violent underbelly. Like a trilogy of one-act plays sharing the same characters, Absurd Person singular is set in three different kitchens on three successive Christmas Eves. As director, I see it as being about victims of the rat-race as they thrash comically in the rat-trap of life. In three funny snapshots, each of three couples takes it in turn to host the Christmas Eve drinks in three successive years. Each new act takes us to an- other kitchen, showing us not only how the story unfolds from each of the play’s three different perspectives, but also how each couple’s facades impact their own lives and the lives of others. Time is unkind to each couple in its way. One marriage is beset by infidelity and mental health issues, one by alcoholism and the last by being obnoxiously perky. Each Act has its own tone, too: the first comes across as a straightforward old- fashioned sitcom farce, yet there is an uncomfortable seam of darkness running through it. Determined to put on a good show is the socially inept, small business owner Sidney (Darren Philip), who sees the opportunity to expand his shop, but needs the help of architect Geoffrey (Steve Pembroke) and banker Ronald (Neville Newman). The second delves swiftly into surprisingly black comedy as Geoffrey’s wife Eva (Karen Butler-Hues) does nothing except silently attempt suicide through- out the act, but is repeatedly denied, with hilarious consequences. In the third, Sidney and his wife Jane (Shea Thommeny), have found financial success through hard work, luck and well-calculated glad-handing. By contrast, the other previously prosperous couples have battled through personal setbacks and are not in the mood for Sidney’s party games-except Ronald’s wife Marion (Bronwyn Duncan), who is perfectly cheery (hic). Flushed with success, Sidney makes them dance to his tune. The challenge of this darkly comic farce is to marry the darkness and the sub- stance of the play with the laugh-out-loud material. I have chosen to stress the comedy in everything from the staging to the casting, never resisting the urge to go for each and every laugh that can be mined from the three troubled (and troubling) couples that constitute the play’s characters.

Fiona Burless