One of Alan Ayckbourn’s acknowledged classics, Absurd Person Singular gets a solidly entertaining outing with a distinctly political undertone in this Curve production.
Set around the time of its writing – somewhere in the early 70s – Paul Kerryson’s meticulously designed version leans heavily on the notion (easy with hindsight) that Ayckbourn’s 1972 play predicted the approach of Thatcherism and all its concomitant implications: the rise of the little man, the triumph of selfishness over altruism and the glorification of the self-made man.
So the show begins with a giant black-and-white photograph of the Blessed Margaret doing the dishes, which heralds both the political message and the relentless domesticity of the farce that is to come. Three kitchens, three successive Christmases, three couples whose fortunes wax and wane with the passing of the years. The craft of Ayckbourn’s writing is joyously explored and equally joyously played by the cast of six, who relish the viciousness of the lines they are given and the contrasts of emotion which they all ultimately undergo.
Designer Juliet Shillingford must take much of the credit for her ingenious and evocative sets, which somehow shrink the vast Curve stage to the intimacies required for the claustrophobic settings. And director Kerryson clearly has an eye for a powerful image, exploiting every possible laugh from the unfolding chaos.
The performances are generally sound, with each character making a transformative journey through the three acts. Louise Plowright is particularly strong as the drink-sodden Marion, while Joseph Alessi gives full rein to the emerging dictator inside the seemingly mild-mannered Sidney.
There is the occasional feeling that the comedy is being overplayed, when the text is enough, and for all the pyrotechnics of the perfectly-choreographed farce the evening somehow doesn’t quite catch fire in the way it might.
But the first-night audience was rapturous, and there is undoubtedly a production of great skill and well-crafted entertainment for those who like their laughs heavily laced with venom.