With its introductory scenes coming across as a hybrid of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and BBC One’s Terry and June, Alan Ayckbourn’s 1970s-set Absurd Person Singular, playing until Saturday at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, takes a little while to settle into its groove.
Sidney (Matthew Cottle) and his wife Jane (Sara Crowe) are preparing for their annual Christmas party, inviting friends around to their house for a drinks and nibbles. As each couple arrives, new stories and tensions are introduced, a web of interaction being laid out for the audience to comprehend.
Jumping forward to the next Christmas after the first interval, then the Christmas after that after a second break, the audience is asked to take a leap of faith each time, listening closely to each character as their lives get more and more complex off-stage.
While the play is a slow-burner – the first act really is a scene setter, with little tension built up and some gentle humour in evidence – this turns out to work in its favour. Getting to know the three husbands and wives is part of the journey, with David Griffin offering up an intriguing history as father and spouse Ronald.
Of particular note here is Honeysuckle Weeks. As Eva, the unfortunate wife of Geoff (Marc Bannerman), her performance is always note perfect, act two’s trance-like scene stealing a genuine joy.
Never crude or nasty, Absurd Person Singular is a fine escape from the seriousness of the credit crunching world outside. With a bittersweet trail of unhappiness and what-might-have-beens running through the play, there’s just enough depth to raise it above comparisons with old TV sitcoms while never quite reaching the heights of Abigail.
Review by Jonathan Melville
Absurd Person Singular runs at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre until Saturday 11 October