Absurd Person Singular is a 'museum piece' and Alan Ayckbourn's script is not witty today

London Classic Theatre presents Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at Cambridge Arts Theatre.

London Classic Theatre presents Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Pictured are John Dorney as Geoffrey Jackson, Felicity Houlbrooke as Jane Hopcroft, and Paul Sandys as Sidney Hopcroft. - Credit: Sheila Burnett

Angela Singer reviews Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Rosanna Miles as Marion, Graham O'Mara as Ronald Brewster-Wright, and Helen Keeley as Eva Jackson in Absurd Person Singular

Rosanna Miles as Marion, Graham O'Mara as Ronald Brewster-Wright, and Helen Keeley as Eva Jackson in Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn. - Credit: Sheila Burnett

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.

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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.

Helen Keeley as Eva Jackson in Absurd Person Singular.

Helen Keeley as Eva Jackson in Absurd Person Singular. - Credit: Sheila Burnett

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.


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