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Belgrade Theatre review: Absurd Person Singular

Absurd Person Singular, Belgrade, Coventry, June 23-26.

By Jane Barker

London Classic Theatre started their tour of Absurd Person Singular in 2020 when it was promptly nipped in the bud bu the pandemic.

Back on tour now, with the same cast, Alan Ayckbourn’s 49-year-old work continues to come up fresh, funny and sometimes nasty. Whisking us back to the 1970s we are reminded of the blatant snobbery and class distinction of that era - although perhaps things have not changed so much.

Director Michael Cabot points out shrewdly in the programme that Ayckbourn is not just a playwright of the middle classes, more a canny observer of social mobility. In this, probably his masterpiece, he nailed the nuances of class distinction and the dangers of holding social gatherings.

Three acts, three Christmases, three couples. Sidney Hopcroft a small-time tradesman is uneducated and charmless, with little going for him except a desire to succeed. The play starts with him and his obsessively housewifely spouse, Jane, preparing compulsively for the arrival of their Christmas guests: banker Ronald and his wife Marion, architect Geoffrey and his wife Eva. They must be impressed.

But by act three all has changed. Sidney is now a success and Ronald's bank depends on his deposits; Geoffrey's career, after the collapse (literally) of his grandiose schemes, hangs on getting work on Sidney's housing projects.

Sidney once needed to flatter them. Now he can make them play his appalling party games.

Felicity Houlbrooke is delightful as Jane, the obsessive compulsive cleaner who catches completely the sense of manic activity. Her husband Paul Sandy’s Sidney, so desperate to impress his neighbours, is nervous at first, but as his fortunes improve so does his self-possession.

The play follows the decline in fortunes of the other couples. Graham O'Mara's plays the ineffectual Ronald, the old style bank manager, no longer able to move with the changing times. His wife Marion, Rosanna Miles, is an insufferable snob with an abiding fondness for gin. John Dorney's architect, Geoffrey is amiable enough, but has no defence against disaster. Eva his wife moves from suicidal to well-balanced and supportive – and Helen Keeley makes the most of the shifts in character.

Simon Scullion's set is a diamond-shaped cut-out, with flats on two sides. The adaptations to three different rooms are smartly done and the space limitations of kitchen life are effectively brought out.

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