London Classic Theatre
September 20-October 16, 2021; 2hr
Alan Ayckbourn's play has been something of a classic since it first appeared almost 50 years ago, in the early Seventies, charting as it does the rise of the trading classes and the relative fall of the professionals, all while being very funny throughout.
Theatr Clwyd is the last stop on this current tour of the revival by Michael Cabot, founder and director of London Classic Theatre, whose company regularly pulls ignored, abandoned or just plain old plays back into the glare of national touring.
As is often the case with early Ayckbourn, the combination of nimble writing, intricate plotting and pure theatrical farce get the audience choking with laughter, especially at the finale.
Ayckbourn's well-crafted script demonstrates an acute understanding of the benefits and faults of British middle class life, centring on a socially aspirational couple, the Hopcrofts, whose trade occupation and lower-middle-class lifestyle is fairly odious to the two more established, higher-class couples, an architect and a banker. As the Hopcrofts’ star rises, the Jacksons and Brewster-Wrights fall foul of middle-class malaise and their lives disintegrate in a way that makes one cringe. The Hopcrofts, oblivious to this, remain unfailingly nice as they foist their good cheer on the other couples.
Director Michael Cabot suggests Ayckbourn doesn't judge his creations but simply allows them to be the best and worst of themselves. Setting the action in the kitchen at three Christmas Eve parties in successive years, his play strips away the veneer of politeness and exposes many of the insecurities in the
characters. Things are seen and heard that normally remain behind closed doors, which allows for a
degree of pathos alongside the many darkly comic moments.
The second act epitomises this: five characters mill around the kitchen attempting to effect repairs while depressed architect's wife Eva Jackson, beautifully played by Helen Keeley, attempts suicide repeatedly and laughably ineffectively. Her cry for help is naively ignored, especially by Jane Hopcroft, played wonderfully by Felicity Houlbrooke.
As with much of Ayckbourn’s work, there is no neat ending, but a fitting farcical scene where all the
characters are forced to enjoy Christmas, whether they like it or not.
Absurd Person Singular has a timeless quality. Despite the desire and clamour for equality seen in society today, the class system is alive and well. Upward social mobility is still hugely important for many, and we seek fulfilment from material gain.
On reflection, we can understand that happiness derived from such things is illusory. This play points this out well, but rather than deriding the system, pokes fun at it persistently, and in doing so leaves you with a warmth and a sense you have learned something important about life.