Despite Absurd Person Singular being set across three successive Christmases, it takes until the final act of London Classic Theatre’s production for any hint of festive cheer to appear. The production is often bleak and darkly comic; in other places it revels in being toe-curlingly awkward.
Alan Ayckbourn’s classic drama charts the rise and fall in fortunes of three couples. It’s a play full of entrances and exits, and of misunderstandings between friends who can’t seem to stand each other.
Jane Hopcroft (Felicity Houlbrooke) is much happier cleaning in the kitchen than circulating with her guests, the socially superior Jacksons and Brewster-Wrights. Houlbrooke’s Jane is so warm and likeable that it’s hard not to feel deeply sorry for her when she disappoints her social-climbing husband Sidney (Paul Sandys). Helen Keeley elicits sympathy, too, by capably conveying Eva Jackson’s silent despair.
Simon Scullion has designed three interiors that perfectly encapsulate the relationship dynamics and social standing of the different couples. It’s easy to imagine the smell of bleach emanating from the Hopcrofts’ orange Formica surfaces, while the Jacksons’ kitchen is as chaotic and disordered as their marriage.
The transformation of the set into the Brewster-Wrights’ abode is slick and impressive. But for all their books and elegant French doors, the couple’s classy patina is shown to be a sham. Rosanna Miles – gratingly arrogant as Marion earlier in the play – comes into her own in the final act. With hair askew as she downs the gins, Marion’s undoing is a joyous relief.