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image credit- Rosanna Miles as Marion, Graham O’Mara as Ronald

Absurd Person Singular
By Alan Ayckbourn
Tuesday 25 February 2020 to Saturday 29 February 2020
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Three married couples spend consecutive Christmas Eves at their successive homes.

The Hopcraft’s (Sidney, a builder and Jane) are our hosts for the first Act.

The action (as with the others) takes place in their kitchen during a drinks and nibbles gathering with a few friends, who we never see, plus the Jackson’s and Brewster-Wright’s, the husbands being, respectively, an architect and banker.

Sidney needs help from both, to expand his business, so continually stresses to Jane that the evening is about impressing the two couples.

Eva Jackson is a neurotic, pill popping and neglected wife, whose husband, Geoffrey, doesn’t try to hide his many sexual indiscretions. Whilst Marion Brewster-Wright clearly is fonder of alcohol than her husband (Ronald), who spends most of the act reading the manual for Janes new washing machine.

The main humour theme in this act revolves around a search for tonic water to go with Marion’s gin. Jane decides, because of the heavy rain, to don an old coat and hat and go to the local off-licence, and leaves the back door on the latch.

When she returns, the door is locked. What follows is an effort to hide what she’s done.

Act two, one year later, descends into dark humour and is the centre piece of the play, featuring Eva’s attempts at suicide. Geoffrey is exasperated with her lack of enthusiasm for him telling her that she’s agreed he will move out, after Christmas, to live with his current fling. She sits, in her dressing gown, trying to write a suitable note but continually deposits the paper on the floor. He gets worried and is about to go for the doctor when the Hopcraft’s arrive.

Eva having unsuccessfully tried to exit via the window turns her attention to the gas cooker, placing her head inside just as Jane arrives. Jane thinks she’s trying to clean the oven and decides to take charge and cleans it for her. Further attempts fail as Eva causes mayhem to the other couples. She glides through the act in silence and blissful ignorance except when someone mentions the dangers she’s caused, which point her in the direction of her next attempt.

Geoffrey returns to discover his wife, making her first sounds in the act, leading the traumatised husbands and their wives in a rendition of a well-known Christmas carol.

John Dorney (Geoffrey) is excellent in the early part of the act, delivering all the dialogue with tremendous feeling and Helen Keeley (Eva) is even better in her silence, driving things to a conclusion, letting her body do the talking.

Act three, on the following Christmas Eve, descends on the Brewster-Wrights. The heating, in their large house, isn’t working and Ronald is sitting by a paraffin stove discussing Marion’s alcohol problem with Eva then Geoffrey. He seems to have grown as a person as a result of Marion’s decline whereas Geoffrey has severe money problems, because the roof of the shopping centre, he designed, collapsed. He’s a pariah, struggling for work, and a transformed Eva is driving the marriage. Marion decides to float down from her fortress bedroom, possibly in search of liquid supplies and joins them shortly before the Jackson’s ring the doorbell. They try to pretend they’re not in but Jane and Sidney enter via the back door and surprise them.

Jane is more confident and Sidney’s business has prospered. They’re in good humour, bringing largely unwanted gifts but somehow manage to raise everyone’s spirits by cajoling the others to play a party game they never got to perform two Christmas’s ago.

The dialogue is funny though, mostly, not side splitting, and the laughs continue at a steady pass. The antics in act two being enough to send you home feeling better than when you arrived.

I have two slight quibbles. First, the actor’s voices at the beginning of act three were a little on the diminished side and I had problems making out the words but that was a minor problem compared to the cold air circulating between the stall’s entrances on either side of the auditorium. I sat through the entire performance with my coat on. I’m not sure if it was just me as some people were consuming ice-cream but I’d recommend suitable clothing as the weather forecast for later in the week points to considerably colder temperatures.

The rest of the cast, Felicity Houlbrooke (Jane), Rosanna Miles (Marion), Graham O’Mara (Ronald) and Paul Sandys (Sidney) gave good performances and Eva and Geoffrey’s pet dog George, unseen, and of undetermined breed was very loud and clearly aggressive.

It’s on at the Devonshire until Saturday so if you like Alan Ayckbourn or never heard of him but like a laugh, check it out. Box office 01323 412000, evenings 7:45 and Saturday matinee 2:30.

Michael Racher
Pevensey Bay Journal

Michael Racher is a writer living and working in Pevensey Bay. He lives in Val Prinseps Road, once home to Val Prinseps, painter, playwright and novelist. He is currently working on a science fantasy novel which takes a journey through time.