Absurd Person Singular: London Premiere Reviews

Generally the website only tends to reprint reviews of the world premiere production of each play. As there is such a paucity of archival material relating to the original production of Absurd Person Singular, a taste of reviews for the acclaimed London production is also offered below. All extracts are copyright of the respective publication.

Daily Express (Herbert Kretzmer)
Ayckbourn does not go all out for witticisms, but depends instead upon a swift, logical build up of complicated, if trivial events…. Playwright Ayckbourn juggles his characters with some dexterity and no little cruelty. Almost all the hilarity of his three-act play derives from the idea of people being impervious to the desperate plight of a woman in their midst. Ayckbourn is a dramatist of minimal mercy.

Daily Mail (Jack Tinker)
Like all the best, it works on one clean and lean idea while uncovering the isolation of the human soul. (As the title here so aptly suggests)…. By a miracle of conjuring, writer, director and cast conspire to transform a silent and systematic attempt at suicide into one of the funniest second acts the West End can currently boast.

Daily Telegraph (John Barber)
What is remarkable about Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy at the Criterion Theatre is that it contrives to be simultaneously hilarious and harrowing. Literally, it is agonisingly funny…. Mr Ayckbourn harrows us not with skeletons in the cupboard but with the anguish of the blocked drain, the squashed trifle and the quietly breaking heart.

Drama (J.W. Lambert)
The piece is enormously enjoyable as well as lethal in its portrait of six assorted middle-class English.

Evening Standard (Milton Shulman)
[Ayckbourn] has written one of the funniest, if not the funniest, comedy in town and I expect it will be a very long time before another first night replaces it at the Criterion….
Absurd Person Singular is one of those deft and ingenious comedies that seems to have been whipped up miraculously out of thin air.

Financial Times (B.A. Young)
There’s no plot at all, though there’s some development of character, as much apparently for the author’s convenience as anything. But with no more tension than can be created by the delayed resolution of domestic mishaps, the play kept me attentive the whole evening…. The evening left me weak with laughter.

The Guardian (Michael Billington)
Alan Ayckbourn’s
Absurd Person Singular is a blithely funny play built round the old critical cliché that farce and tragedy are simply opposite sides of the same coin. Each act is set in the kitchen of a small-town married couple at Christmas; and as the disasters accumulate, the panic intensifies, and the social relationships disintegrate, the audience laughs all the louder. But at any moment it would only take one small push to send the whole situation toppling into the direst situation…. What makes the play rewarding is that underneath the bubbling fun you get quite a sharp sense of human pain and misery.

New Statesman (Benedict Nightingale)
If you wish to see a truly hideous example of this genre (farcical comedy), torment yourself with
No Sex Please, We’re British, still (incredibly) running at the Strand; and, if you wish to know what can still be made of it, treat yourself to Absurd Person Singular. (1) It is very funny, with plenty of incident and confrontation. (2) These incidents are not capriciously superimposed on the action, but emerge naturally from the conflict of character. (3) The characterisation is apt, intelligent, and actually develops as the evening proceeds. (4) This development is towards no set conclusion, no conventional reconciliation, but the kind of suggestive and sardonic irresolution we expect of plays at the Royal Court or Open Space.

New York Times (Clive Barnes)
It is a lovely piece of work. But the entire evening, with its misery coated over with the paint of a smile, is very rewarding and amusing. It is beautifully directed by Eric Thompson.

Punch (Jeremy Kingston)
The interplay of situations, a strong formal framework and the variations within this are shapely as well as funny…. The familiar bounds have shifted a little. Farce is mixing with comedy (two very different spirits) and serious events add a dash of unexpected bitterness.

Sunday Telegraph (Frank Marcus)
If you collect your thoughts sufficiently amid the paroxysm of laughter, you will find in this new play, a more clear-eyed and devastating mirror image of the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism than anything enacted on the stages of our so-called committed theatres…. So far, I have not read any critical assessments, erudite analyses, or theses on the work of Alan Ayckbourn. Our academics and pontificators have been strangely silent. This, however, does not prevent
Absurd Person Singular from being the best comedy in town, and Mr Ayckbourn from having the last laugh on all of them.

Sunday Telegraph (Frank Marcus - from his review of Trevor Griffith’s The Party)
The only truly radical play in London [is] Alan Ayckbourn’s
Absurd Person Singular, where behind the veneer of laughter, present day class differences and their fluctuations are exposed with a devastating exactitude. The characters are believable too.

The Stage
Alan Ayckbourn has the writer’s supreme gift of being able to successfully coat the wryly bitter pill of social comment with a delicious confection of drollery…. [An] Exquisitely funny play.

The Times (Charles Lewson)
For all his frenetic invention, Ayckbourn does not allow his characters freedom to develop…. In his detachment from his creatures, Ayckbourn is rather like the second act characters who pursue their obsessions oblivious to the fact that someone in their midst is trying to kill herself…. I found this a coldly amusing show.

Time Out
It’s a bleak vision of dishonest and petty suburbia - the audiences were rolling about but they looked like a thousand cases of appendicitis. A must.

What’s On
None of these situations may seem, on the face of it, to contain the stuff of hilarity. But one person’s pain is another’s pleasure, and two acts, at least, are immoderately funny in a cruel sort of way.

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.