Absurd Person Singular: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"In Absurd Person Singular I've tried to explore people a little more, and at the same time to cut back some of the high jinks. When I'd written it someone said 'What's the second act? ' I said ' It's about a woman committing suicide'. But it's a farce situation because nobody knows that she is. She puts her head in the oven and they think she's trying to clean it. And they're all trying to help, and all for the wrong reasons. You have to be careful if you're going to write about suicide, but it's funny if you see why they're doing it, and feel sorry for them. One of the great touchstones for me is whether I feel for them. I've got at least to love them while I'm writing them, and understand why they're like they are."
(Plays And Players, September 1972)

Regarding the character of Sidney Hopcroft: "If you really want to succeed, you don't have to look any further than the unimaginative, humourless, grabbing sort of guy, the opportunist who does not worry about other people's feelings, who looks neither to the left nor to right. One must be very lucky to not feel."
(Plays And Players, September 1972)

Regarding the Broadway production of the play: "They [the producers] had this idea that it should have a guaranteed number of laughs, and they had two men sitting in the house, counting them. The laughs. No, really - and they got in touch with me and said, "There are 92 laughs in the first act and 75 in the second, but only 51 in the third. What do you make of this?" I said, "Well, I make out that the third act is not as funny as the first." And they said, "What are you going to do about it?" And I said, "It's not supposed to be as funny, so if they're not getting laughs, I must come over and congratulate the cast." *
(The Washington Star, 22 February 1976)

* To find out more about the Broadway production of Absurd Person Singular and the laugh-count saga, click here.

"Sidney is the hero of
Absurd Person Singular in the sense that he's the central link in the plays. I have certainly not written him as contemptible as I feel that this was to impose a view on a character who should be allowed to speak and if necessary condemn himself out of his own mouth. The play does indeed make the point that, in contemporary society, the really determined and ruthless man will succeed where other nicer and probably less profit-motivated people won't. Practically all the other characters have the virtue of feeling (although Ronald has totally opted out of anything). Marion cares, Geoffrey is weak and vain but ultimately has a few rather feeble liberal views and Eva feels. Certainly Sidney's way is the way to worldly success. But not much else. But then a man like Sidney wouldn't realise that there was anything else."
(Personal correspondence, March 1976)

"I rather revel in my character's defects! In a play like
Absurd Person Singular, they all have horrendous flaws. It's a rather cynical statement which says that if you're a person who so lacks imagination, and any feeling for your fellow men, and concentrate purely on the profit motive, then you'll probably finish up a very rich worldly success, but also be a very awful person. And if you're at all vulnerable or feeling, or at all weak in your relationships with people, you won't finish up very successful, although you'll be a nice person. What I'm saying is 'cursed are the meek.'"
(Liverpool Echo, August 1976)

"I like to have a problem, because I think it takes care of one aspect of the play. Take
Absurd Person Singular. I had the theme of the ascendancy of one couple and the decline of the other two, set it in the sitting room, started off as normal, and I think in terms of content it was quite interesting - you know, I'd got the couples sketched rather well. But there was an edge missing off it, and by transferring it into the kitchens - setting it backstage, as it were - one got an additional angle on it, which made it much more interesting. I think it lifted it from being a reasonable play into a better play. I do like to charge things. People assume that theatre is a very good medium just for people sitting down and discussing. Having worked in theatre, as a theatre person all my life, I do love to make use of the medium."
(Municipal Entertainment, May 1978)

"The middle act of Absurd Person Singular is sometimes a trap, but one should bear in mind that all the characters are in their own terms acting totally logically. Leave it to us, the audience, to laugh, if we see the funny side; and leave it to the dramatist, if he's done his job properly, to point the absurdity. The actors don't need to react; they can continue to play their own role within that scene... there's still a woman trying to kill herself, which she is still quite serious about, and there's still a man trying to unblock a sink. What turns an audience off, I think, is when actors are in effect saying 'Aren't I funny?'" (Amateur Stage, 1978)

"Dramatically, Eva's suicide scene is one of my first experiments in the use of dramatic counterpoint, i.e. using a deeply serious action against a background of comic events (or is it the other way around?) Both serving to strengthen the other but hopefully neither selling the other short. Jane is just as serious about cleaning her oven as Eva is to commit suicide. It's all a question of priorities."
(Personal correspondence, 14 February 1987)

"I started by setting it in a sitting room, but it got desperately boring very quickly."
(Scarborough Evening News, 13 December 1989)

"It was originally intended as a slightly veiled attack on the get-rich-quick society which has got even worse since then. It seems even more relevant today that it did when I first wrote it."
(Bishops Stortford Gazette, 16 February 1990)

"Off-stage characters often add depth to a play - it's like a perspective device in painting. Dick and Lottie helped enlarge the world of Sidney and Jane - not just in the first act but throughout the play. Even in Act III, though absent, they've managed to steal Ronald and Marion's sons away (Well, they probably went willingly!)"
(Personal correspondence, 23 January 1996)

"I wanted to write about the fact we can never take anything for granted. That fortunes do change rapidly, that the dedicated fiercely ambitious money-maker who eschews any form of emotional tie (Sidney) can usually make it over the rest of his kind, weighed down as they are by the baggage of emotional involvement. I leave the audience to judge which is preferable."
(Personal correspondence, 23 January 1996)

"My late agent, the great eccentric Peggy Ramsay, hated me writing plays set at Christmas. 'Oh Alan,' she'd say, 'not another bloody Christmas play.' But I'd explain to her that Christmas was a gift to a dramatist. You're always looking for a reason to stick a group of people together who can't stand each other, aren't you? Dinner parties are good, but what better time than Christmas? You've got three days together and there's always bound to be at least a cousin no one can stand. I've seen it at my own Christmases - two relatives arguing bitterly over who should sit in which chair."
(The Guardian, 20 December 2007)

"We were in a lift up to Michael Codron’s office and I suddenly said ‘
Absurd Person Singular. That’s a good title.’ I hadn’t got a play! And then I wrote a play a couple of years later and thought: this is Absurd Person Singular."
(Tea For Two with Alan Ayckbourn and Richard Derrington, Stephen Joseph Theatre, 24 July 2008)

“I’m really showing how sad it is that people can try to be nice and that it sometimes doesn’t work. I’m saying that a lot of the worst things that happen in life are the result of well-meaning actions.”
(Personal correspondence)

“Despite its enormously long running time that [first] night - I think our technical staff were stretched to their limits creating three kitchens on the first floor of a library - it remains one of the most successful first performances of mine that I’ve ever not sat through. It was, I suppose, particularly satisfying because it was the first time I’d ever had the courage, as a writer, to weave some slightly darker threads in amongst the comic tapestries. In fact, the first time I allowed the characters their own destinies rather than like, say, the puppet master I’d been in
Relatively Speaking to dictate their destinies. It’s ironic in retrospect that having voluntarily given up that role as a writer, I handed it to one of the characters, Sidney Hopcroft.
“The play also contains two of my own personal favourite offstage characters, Dick & Lottie Potter. I always feel that whatever criticisms may be levelled at me now and in years to come, in my defence I can say that at least I left the Potters in the wings. This was not always the case. When I first started the play it was intended that it should be set in the sitting rooms of the three households. After only a few pages, along with the rest of my characters, I fled to the kitchen in order to escape the awful Potters.”
(Source to be confirmed)

"The title was something I'd thought of in a lift. I've read theses justifying it and thought: "Oh God, I don't want to tell them it was just an accident.""
(The Guardian, 19 March 2012)

"It's a running joke that I never change anything in a script during rehearsals. But when we first put
Absurd Person Singular in front of an audience - a three-act play, with two intervals, in a tiny room in a library, with no bar - I thought: "We can't ask them to sit through that again. I don't want to sit through that again." So I cut it, and the play became a hit."
(The Guardian, 19 March 2012)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn