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Absurd Person Singular review at Watford Palace Theatre – ‘an energetic staging’

Sarah Quist and Walter van Dyk in Absurd Person Singular. Photo: The Other Richard
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Regularly revived since its 1972 premiere, Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular is a slow-moving but sharply observed farce of social climbing and shifting fortunes, following three couples through three eventful Christmas Eve parties.

Director Brigid Larmour’s version enriches the wry and recognisable dialogue with plenty of physical comedy, but for all the energy, the material can’t help but feel dated. While the production points up the significant changes in social attitudes over the last four decades, it’s nevertheless uncomfortable to see – and be encouraged to laugh at – depictions of crass, patronising men and brittle, defeated women. A protracted sequence in which Emily Tucker’s desperate, disregarded housewife Eva repeatedly attempts suicide is hard to watch, despite the levity of the tone.

Terence Frisch is impressive as small business owner Sidney, hiding a ruthlessly ambitious streak beneath a veneer of cheerful practicality. As his wife Jane, Jill McAusland is all squealing, joyless laughter as she scurries about in her husband’s shadow, relentlessly polishing and scrubbing, as she chases a crippling ideal of perfection.

Quickly reset between acts, Amy Jane Cook’s neat, naturalistic sets place the action in a procession of domestic spaces, decorated in a ghastly, era-appropriate palette of high-pattern pastels and burnt sienna. Likewise, the consummately reproduced costumes capture the shifting fashions of the period, with shiny velvets and vertiginously high-waisted trousers fixing the action firmly in an early-1970s timeframe. Despite the nostalgia factor, the decor, like the script itself, feels very much of its time.

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Impressive design work and an energetic staging lift this production of Alan Ayckbourn’s creaky 1970s comedy