Absurd Person Singular is a 'museum piece' and Alan Ayckbourn's script is not witty today
- Credit: Sheila Burnett
Angela Singer reviews Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at Cambridge Arts Theatre.
This is a museum piece. Written in 1972, it’s interesting to see the attitudes of husbands towards their wives that were accepted as standard 50 years ago.
Here we have three couples. One man regards his wife as a factotum. He has bought her a washing machine for Christmas.
Another is a philanderer and says that is part of some kind of bargain he struck on marriage. Unsporting of his wife to object.
The third is simply baffled. He cannot fathom his spouse at all.
And the wives? The factotum feverishly cleans, the partner of the roving eye is on pills, the “mystery woman” takes to booze.
In so many marriages of the period, women were the cyphers. There was “wife swapping”. It was never called husband swapping.
- 1 ‘The most glamorous christening the vicar had ever seen!’
- 2 Parking spaces so narrow that driver had to climb out the boot!
- 3 Concerns over planned travel hub at railway station
- 4 Have you seen Stevie the horse?
- 5 Travellers move onto sports field forcing football to be cancelled
- 6 Petition launched to save school transport for special needs schools
- 7 Drug dealer who 'exploited vulnerable people' linked to 101 wraps of cocaine
- 8 Man in his 80s dies in fatal Buckden Road crash at Brampton
- 9 Plea to hold a Macmillan Coffee Morning as sign-ups drop
- 10 Back after Zoom meetings and in fine voice
Each scene presents us with a Christmas gathering at each couple’s home. And, as the song says, we are always in the kitchen at parties.
Simon Scullion’s set of three different kitchens opens with such a faithful interpretation of a 1970s’ orange cupboards that I felt nostalgic. Now the last of these has been put in a skip, they are bound to come back into fashion.
Ayckbourn has been writing plays since 1959 – so for 60 years, often two a year. He is Britain’s most performed living playwright. The works have been translated into 35 languages. There is always an Ayckbourn being put on by someone somewhere. Usually we can expect, as it were, a sting in the tale.
But, this is an early work. Like most writers, Ayckbourn got better. The script here is not witty. It hasn’t lasted. We don’t laugh at sadness now. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy doesn’t work.
Director Michael Cabot’s piece does have pace though. There is a great deal of energy from the cast and a stand-out performance from Helen Keeley as Eva Jackson, the philanderer’s wife.
This is a piece of theatrical history. It’s of its time but thankfully, not ours.
Absurd Person Singular can be seen at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, September 11, 2021.