Alan Ayckbourn’s plays are belters. They pick the audience up and propel them through a series of emotional turmoils eliciting, amusement, sadness, sheer awfulness to deep, rich belly laughter. And although they are becoming rather dated at the moment, their characters and situations are universal and will continue to be theatrical yardsticks of quality for years to come.
So you might think that to produce an Alan Ayckbourn is a veritable piece of cake, just learn the lines and let the play do the work. Well, yes and no. The simplicity is deceptive. The plays are constructed with hairsbreadth accuracy; emotional truthfulness is essential, they can’t be played for laughs or for sentiment. There is deep subtext that needs to be understood and played. Characterisation must be of a very high order.And, at the same time, they require acting craft of the highest quality. The actors must time the lines absolutely precisely or the sub text and point of the play will not become apparent.
“Absurd person Singular” follows three couples over three Christmasses in their three different kitchens. Actually there are four couples but in a typically Ayckbourn twist we never see the other.
Ayckbourn’s works were all written for his theatre in the round. This means they required very little in the way of sets and furniture. Ironically in an unforgiving space like Lighthouse studio more attention to setting is required to achieve the atmosphere of claustrophobic quiet desperation of the characters against a stage of echoing planks. The company pulled off this trick very well on Saturday afternoon when I saw it but I hope that very soon Dramatic Productions will have the sponsorship and support to be able to give more resources to the setting.
Frank Holden’s company serve him very well. The progression of the characters through their various stages of development or decline are beautifully portrayed and well delineated in Frank’s direction.
The audience where convulsed with laughter, particularly in the technically demanding second act in which Sasha Paul demonstrated her supreme acting skill in portraying a woman attempting suicide whilst mayhem is being generated around her. For the whole scene the character has no lines but it was an acting tour de force from Sasha. Emily Holden held the ring as the cleaning obsessed Jane in Act 1 and Julia Savill produced some of the best laughs and most sympathy as the hard-drinking Marion in Act 3. The men have equally demanding through-lines- Sean Pogmore as the man with the developing business empire, Steve McCarten as the architect whose business is on the slide and Christopher Mellows as the Bank manager Ronald. All acqitted themselves well.
Well done Dramatic Productions.