Review: Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at Chichester Minerva Theatre and directed by the author

If the 1960s marked the sexual revolution in Britain, then the following decade represented the social one.

Thursday, 16th August 2012, 3:55 pm

National financial ruin, three-day weeks and soaring inflation saw the country’s economy shaken to the core and a new order begin to emerge.

Against this backdrop, Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular was born – a play that examines the changing lives of three couples and their marriages over three years.

But this is more than a mere documentary of six people. It is, at its heart, a portrayal of the evolving social strata that was to define a decade.

The play opens in the Hopcroft’s kitchen at Christmas. Sidney has invited the bank manager and his wife along as well as a respected architect – in his efforts to impress, climb the social ladder, and secure a loan to advance his fledgling construction business.

But as his star rises over the next two acts – each set in subsequent years at kitchen Christmas parties – those of the guests he was once seeking to impress plunge to a point where by the end they are desperate to please him.

What marks this play out not only as one of Ayckbourn’s finest but also one of the greatest British contemporary comedies of its time, is its brilliant humour rooted in ruthless exposure of character and human weakness, and the contrasting mood shades of dark and light.

The second act – an attempted suicide in the midst of kitchen chaos is a masterpiece of modern comedy, whose black humour is driven by an exacting and over-magnified examination of the failings of everyone involved.

The six actors may not quite live up to the BBC’s all-star 1985 television dramatization of the stage play – but they none the less do a magnificent job, without exception.

Sarah Parks as the bank manager’s alcoholic wife Marion Brewster-Wright gives a performance of particular strength and dynamic.

Forty years after it was first performed, Absurd Person Singular remains an outrageously compelling piece of humour with a message as relevant today as it was then. Not to be missed.

Gary Shipton