Premiered in Scarborough in 1972, Absurd Personal Singular is the most commercially successful of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays. At the Criterion Theatre the following year it ran for 27 months and 973 performances - still a record for an Ayckbourn.
Absurd Person Singular Stephen Joseph Ben Porter and Laura Doddington in Absurd Person Singular at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough Photo: Robert Day
Absurd is also significant in Ayckbourn’s development as a playwright as it marks his move to the darker side. It is the play, remember, in which a desperate woman spends most of the second act trying to commit suicide.
This deeply funny 40th anniversary production has Ayesha Antoine playing the woman. Antoine was last seen at Scarborough in Ayckbourn’s My Wonderful Day, in which she played a nine year-old schoolgirl. That was an astonishing, physically complete performance for which she received a TMA award. Now she brings an air of purpose to the suicide bids, making them even more comic.
Ayckbourn’s direction allows his cast delectable timing and appreciable depths of darkness and despair. Three married couples are on stage and it’s a socio-psychological-sexual battleground. The undercurrents between husbands and wives, and between the couples, are deliciously played. Quoting the statistics again, Absurd is the most revived of Ayckbourn’s plays and this revival is a gem. Darker and therefore funnier, farcical situations played with frantic emotion. The cast will also be seen next month in Ayckbourn’s new play Surprises, his 76th.
Absurd requires complex scene changes with a different kitchen for each of three acts. The changes are carried out without clearing the auditorium, which is an increasing habit elsewhere. The precise and ordered nature of the stage manager’s craft, and its intrinsic choreography, can therefore be appreciated.