ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR
by Alan Ayckbourn.
In rep to 3 November 2012.
Runs 3hr Two intervals
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 November.
A valuable, if not quite definitive revival.
Did theatrically-minded holidaymakers in 1972 Scarborough realise they were seeing the first outing of a major new play which took the social temperature of the times and looked forward to changes that would, within a decade, change Britain?
Over three Christmases events move between the Hopcroft’s all-new kitchen, to the older kitchen of architect Geoffrey Jackson, then the rambling one in the house of bank-manager Ronald Brewster-Wright. As events proceed, the welcome grows less – from the Hopcrofts’ keen party-organising to the informal, ill-organised final act. And as the setting apparently moves up the social scale, the hosting couples move down or disintegrate.
For this is the world of newcomer, profit-maker and culturally zero Sidney, who finally gets to play his party-games. It’s a bitter end that still keeps within the comic framework, giving audiences a grasp of what they’ve been laughing at all along.
Ben Porter’s tall Sidney is among the very best, an ingratiating, insistent character for whom sociability is always on his own terms. Eventually, he’ll do in society what he’s already done with his wife Jane, who displaces unacknowledged discontent into compulsive house-cleaning.
Laura Doddington shows her near despair, then recovering herself through polishing. But it’s a shame Alan Ayckbourn didn’t cast her as the suicidal Eva – less obvious casting, allowing Doddington to explore the wordless second act, where Eva’s desperate suicide attempts are the cause of trouble to other characters and hilarity for the audience.
It would also have allowed Ayesha Antoine to play Jane. After Ayckbourn’s My Wonderful Day it’s evident Antoine can do silent and withdrawn admirably. A shot at low self-esteem expressed in a flow of words would have been a fine opportunity for her.
Bill Champion is nowhere near old enough for Ronald, having to use some actorish gravitas, within which he produces fine details. Yet both he and Antoine have middle-act moments that brought a round of applause.
Sarah Parks catches his wife’s social snobbery, descending into inebriation. The most difficult role is the assertive, inconsiderate Geoffrey, who often seems forced. Richard Stacey incorporates the character within a coherent, convincing performance.
Jane Hopcroft: Laura Doddington.
Sidney Hopcroft: Ben Porter.
Ronald Brewster-Wright: Bill Champion.
Marion Brewster-Wright: Sarah Parks.
Eva Jackson: Ayesha Antoine.
Geoffrey Jackson: Richard Stacey.
Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.