Saturday, 19 December 1998

Absurd Person Singular, Dec 18, 1998

by Alan Ayckbourn, by Melbourne Theatre Company
At Fairfax Studio until December 19, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The silliness dial is turned up to 110% in Absurd Person Singular, a masterly farce by English playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, directed with comic flair by David Latham, performed with impeccable comic timing on Shaun Gurton's versatile revolving set; and what better time to set the play than during the Silly Season.

Three dysfunctional English couples of differing class and financial solvency, collide on three consecutive Christmas Eves in a bizarre dance of rising and falling social and emotional fortunes. Echoes of Dickens' Christmases Past, Present and Future in three acts map the rapid rise of the tasteless Hopcrofts from social climbing grocers to property developers.

Act One, in 1970, sees the grovelling Hopcroft (Tony Taylor) bullying Jane, his timid, Ajax-obsessed wife (Merridy Eastman) during a Christmas cocktail party planned to impress his dull, conservative banker Ronald Brewster-Wright (Brian Lipson) and his ever-so-politely critical wife Marion (Jane Menalaus).

In Act Two, a year later at the third couple's, Eva and Geoff (Sally Cooper, Robert Menzies) Jackson's home, the previously valium-addled, now suicidally depressed Eva silently attempts suicide as the others sabotage her gassing, knifing, leaping, electrocution and hanging while they mend or clean her kitchen appliances.

The final scene of this act is the most chaotic, absurd and hilarious in as they sing On The First day of Christmas around a laundry-bedecked electrocution victim. Yes, really.

In each home the owners become victims of Ayckbourn's wit. Every horror of these inappropriate but outwardly proper, ordinary marriages is callously revealed. His sardonic attack on these singular characters is unrelenting.

In 1972, the Brewster-Wrights are living in separate parts of an icy-cold house when visited by the others. Marion is drunk, Ronald desperate and lonely. Social decorum cannot stop them hiding under tables from the ghastly, successful Hopcrofts. It ends like a Monty Python Butlands' holiday camp..

The actors teeter sublimely on the knife edge of tragedy and comedy. Menalaus' snobbish Marion and Lipson's awkward twitty Ronald are the perfect mismatch. Menzies is suitably maddening as the cruelly egocentric Geoff. Cooper transforms his despairing wife from demented clown to canny businesswoman. Taylor's Hopcroft is cleverly gauche and Eastman's Jane has her own peculiar twitchiness.

Ayckbourn is a master craftsman. Even his off-stage characters are hilarious. Moderns might scoff but he is the populist writer of England and manages a laugh a minute peppered with acerbic social observation.

by Kate Herbert

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