Absurd Person Singular: Articles by Other Authors

This section includes articles by Alan Ayckbourn on Absurd Person Singular as well as other authors. All articles are copyright off the respective author and can be accessed through the links in the right-hand column.

This article about Absurd Person Singular was written by the theatre critic Benedict Nightingale as part of the Great Moments In Theatre series for The Times. It was published on 28 May 2010.

Great Moments in Theatre: Absurd Person Singular

by Benedict Nightingale

Alan Ayckbourn once said that he aimed to write a “completely serious play that makes people laugh all the time”, and especially in the 1970s his work got darker, more sombre, while still acknowledging the wry and, yes, funny side of things. The extreme case was Just Between Ourselves in 1976, but, as a recent London revival confirmed, the most successful was Absurd Person Singular, which had opened to admiring reviews four years earlier.

Technically the play was as daring as we had come to expect. Who but Ayckbourn would set a domestic comedy on three consecutive Christmas Eves in three different kitchens while much of the action occurred in the next room? Who else would give us a second act in which a wife, despairing of her husband’s fidelity, made a series of botched suicide attempts, only for them to be misinterpreted by the other characters? They clean out the gas oven into which she’s putting her head, press gin into the hand about to dunk bleach down her throat, fix the sink in which she’s scrabbling with pills, and end up half-electrocuted mending the light from which she’s trying to hang herself.

And the play wasn’t just a black comedy. Its undeniably serious subject was social change. Richard Briers brought point and purpose to the character most obviously embodying it, a property developer called Sidney, a man at first insecure and desperately keen to impress his supposed betters but by the end rich, confident and utterly in control of people who had come to need his influence. Meanwhile, Sheila Hancock, initially all upper-crust squawks of “soopah” and “enchanting” as she patronises Sidney and his floundering wife, becomes a hopeless victim of the gin bottle.

A play for the 1970s? Absolutely. And for now? You bet.

Article © Benedict Nightingale. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.