Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at The New Vic

It’s only October, but Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedy ‘Absurd Person Singular’ has already got me in the festive spirit, and all the joy and drama that comes with it.

Having adored Girl Next Door at The New Vic last month, I was eager to see a second of his shows, and the social-climbing Absurd Person Singular did not disappoint.

The prolific playwright has been putting shows together for more than 60 years, and has some 80 plays to his name from 1959 to 2021. Absurd Person Singular was Ayckbourn’s 12th play, written in 1972 and intelligently explains why, like Jona Lewie, you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties.

Credit Sheila Burnett

Celebrating London Classic Theatre’s 20th anniversary, the show is set in 1970s suburbia, and sees three married couples share hosting duties of Christmas Eve house parties as they try to one-up each other of the course of three years. It really is a matter of trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Read more: The Girl Next Door – the must-see post-lockown play at New Vic Theatre

Act One sees house-proud Jane, played by Felicity Houlbrooke, and socially-inept Sidney (Paul Sandys) welcome the Brewster-Wrights and the Jacksons into their clean and tidy home, with carefully positioned bowls of nuts and not so much as a fingerprint on the dining table. Sidney hopes to find favour with a bank manager and local architect, who look down on him as somewhat childish and, frankly, below their class.

This bubbly duo bring joy and humour to the stage, especially when Jane did the unthinkable – forgot the tonic for the gin. And it must be mentioned that Felicity’s vocals, whilst subtly sung during menial chores, are beautiful.

Credit Sheila Burnett

With Ayckbourn’s distinct dark humour, Absurd Person Singular explores the topics of class, suicide, alcoholism and misogyny as each characters true colours are revealed as they seek refuge in sympathetic Jane’s kitchen.

Over the next two years, the Jacksons and Brewster-Wrights take turns to host festivities. Meanwhile, Sidney’s star has begun to rise and roles are increasingly reversed as the cracks in the other couples’ marriages begin to show.

Act Two starts in Geoffrey and Eva Jackson’s house. Jack-the-lad Geoffrey (John Dorney) struggles with monogamy, which has left an abused Eva – played by Helen Keeley – in a state of depression and self-destruction. John offered the audience a highly entertaining Rik Mayall-esque performance, and wardrobes Kate Lyons saw his 70s fashion superbly executed.

Credit Sheila Burnett

But it’s the third Christmas ‘do’ that is the most telling, showing a clear difference in each character’s personality from that very first party as the years progress. Marion Brewster-Wright (Kathryn Richie) at first seems friendly, enthusiastic and somewhat eccentric, perhaps a little snobby. She swoons over Janes 70s kitchenette, particularly her washing machine, and has a carefree air about her. But it transpires that she’s really rather false and two-faced, and, of course, an alcoholic.

Her husband, Ronald (Graham O’Mara), is a man who enjoys the finer things in life, but, as Sidney climbs the financial ladder, Ronald finds himself slipping, and is a bag of nerves come the final scenes.

Read more: Coppelia: a magical immersive show at New Vic Theatre

The cast executed the story brilliantly, with clever use of sound at the New Vic’s Theatre in the round. Ayckbourn’s play is packed with one liners and hilarious situations. It’s a wonderfully human story, that gives a peek behind the curtain into everyday life and the mundane and marvellous moments that happen in ones own kitchen – from missing bottle openers to blocked sinks.

Tickets for Absurd Person Singular are on sale now, priced from £17.50 – £26.50, and can be booked by calling the Box Office on 01782 717962 or online at newvictheatre.org.uk. Contains adult themes, recommended age 14 +.

Credit Sheila Burnett
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