Theatre Review: Absurd Person Singular @ The New Vic

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Photo- New Vic Theatre

Alan Ayckbourn aficionados have been spoilt with the New Vic’s programming this season. Hot on the heels of The Girl Next Door, the London Classic Theatre Company celebrates its twentieth anniversary by touring Absurd Person Singular. First staged almost fifty years ago, this highly-enjoyable production, under the direction of Michael and Kathryn Cabot, remains thought-provoking and amusing to this day.

The action is set across three consecutive Christmas Eves and follows the fortunes of three couples by visiting each of their homes in turn. Sidney Hopcroft (Paul Sandys) is an ambitious man keen to move up the social ladder while keeping his wife Jane (Felicity Houlbrooke) under his thumb.

Hopcroft has invited two couples to his soiree – banker Ronald Brewster-Wright and his snobbish wife Marion (Graham O’Mara and Kathryn Ritchie) and womanising architect Geoffrey Jackson (John Dorney) and his partner Eva (Helen Keeley). Sidney wants everything to be perfect to aid his climb up the greasy pole with everything planned in finest detail including the party games. Unfortunately, things do not work out as planned. Less than complimentary behind his back, the guests make their departures before the games can be played.

It is clear, however, that all is not roses in the other couples’ gardens and these frailties are explored in the final two acts. The architect practice and Ronald’s bank both become more insolvent while the female characters become ever more dependent on pills and booze. All this while the Hopcroft’s star continues to rise.

In the final act it is clear which family rules the roost as Geoffrey begs for crumbs from Sidney’s table and Ronald depends on Hopcroft’s account to keep his bank afloat. When Sidney and Jane finally get to play their party game the others have to dance to the Hopcroft tune.

Sidney is not a likable character and it is understandable why the other couples try to hide away from him in the final act. But he is played to perfection by Sandys as a person who may have the money but will never have the class. Houlbrooke puts in a very enjoyable performance as Jane. Her comedic talents are brought to the fore while she also portrays the growing confidence of her character.

Dorney plays Geoffrey with all of the swagger required to portray his lecherous personality while Keeley is excellent – particularly in Act 2 where she acts out her breakdown in a style that touched and amused the audience at the same time. Well done!

Ritchie is convincing as a woman unable to cope with marriage without a glass in her hand while I enjoyed the performance of O’Mara as he played a man totally useless in the practicalities of life and unable to understand why he is unsuccessful with women.

There will be many who will have seen this play before but I would urge you to give this latest version a try for two reasons. Firstly, the characters could have been stereotypically played but the production team has made the cast create believable characters who give the play a freshness. Secondly, there are periods of genuine laugh-out-loud comedy – particularly the slapstick-style Act 2.

Absurd Person Singular drew rapturous applause from a well-attended New Vic. You should catch it if you can.

It continues until October 23rd with a playing time of 2hrs 15 minutes including interval. Call 01782 717962 for details