Absurd Person Singular
is a three-act play by British playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn, focusing on the changing fortunes of three married couples—Sidney and Jane, Geoffrey and Eva, and Ronald and Marion. The play takes place at a Christmas Eve celebration; each act takes place in a different couple’s home on a successive year. Exploring themes of materialism, gender roles, what it truly means to be wealthy, and the struggles of the middle class, it premiered in 1972 in Scarborough before debuting in London in summer 1973. A Broadway engagement began in October 1974, where it ran for 591 performances and was revived for a short run in 2005. A 1985 film adaptation was aired on the BBC.
Act 1 takes place in the suburban home of Sidney and Jane Hopcroft. They’re busy trying to get their home ready for the party. Sidney is determined to impress Ronald Brewster-Wright, a successful banker, and his wife, Marion. Jane is occupied cleaning the kitchen. When the Brewster-Wrights arrive, Jane accidentally spills something on Ronald’s pants. The Brewster-Wrights complain to each other that they can’t wait to leave. Other guests soon arrive, including the heard-but-never-seen Dick and Lottie Potter, and the unstable Eva Jackson and her flirtatious and unfaithful husband, Geoffrey. When the guests run out of tonic water, Jane runs out to get more and puts on her husband’s raincoat. She returns to find herself locked out, and is forced to ring the bell to get back in. Ronald answers the door and doesn’t recognize her; Sidney lies and tells him she was a delivery person. Sidney asks Ronald for a loan to expand his chain of grocery stores; Geoffrey also approaches Ronald for a recommendation for the job of architect in the community’s soon to be built shopping center. The guests soon leave, and Sidney and Jane are left alone. She’s put out about his deception, but he tells her that the guests can be useful for them. He watches television, while Jane cleans the kitchen.
Act 2 begins one year later at the apartment of Geoffrey and Eva Jackson. The scene opens with Geoffrey berating his depressed, suicidal wife who has gotten worse despite her medication. He says he’s going to move out until she recovers, then changes the subject, complaining about the work on the shopping complex, which he finds slow and frustrating. Sidney and Jane Hopcroft arrive, and Geoffrey resentfully notes to his wife that Sidney has been very successful lately, more successful than he has been. Suddenly, the party is thrown into chaos when Eva grabs a knife and attempts suicide. Geoffrey grabs her before she can seriously hurt herself, takes the knife, and leaves to find a doctor. Eva is left alone, and Jane, Sidney, and Ronald look after her one by one. She doesn’t say anything, and they mostly ignore her while she writes a suicide note and attempts to kill herself by various means. The guests notice things around the house and try to fix them. Sidney fixes the sink, Jane cleans the oven (right after Eva tries to suffocate herself in it), and Ronald changes the light bulb while Eva tries to hang herself from the fixture. Marion enters with the dog and mentions that the Jacksons’ dog bit Dick Potter. Geoffrey returns, along with the doctor, and finds his guests and wife quietly singing together, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
The third act begins one year later at Ronald and Marion’s old Victorian home. Marion, now an alcoholic, spends most of her time in bed. Eva visits with Ronald, and they discuss their ongoing financial troubles. Ronald’s bank is struggling; Geoffrey has been out of work ever since the shopping complex he designed collapsed. Marion comes downstairs and tries to coax Ronald into having a drink. Geoffrey arrives, and Eva tries to get him to ask Ronald to return the money he lent them in the past. Sidney and Jane Hopcroft arrive, and Ronald admits that he wishes he could tell them to leave, but Sidney has a large deposit at the bank that he needs. He turns the lights off in the house, hoping they’ll think no one’s there and leave. Instead, the Hopcrofts enter through the back door and find the two couples trying to hide from them. They seem oblivious to the fact that no one wants them there, and present gifts to their hosts. They give Marion a bottle of gin and Ronald a screwdriver set. Sidney attempts to liven up the party by announcing that he’s brought a game, called Musical Dancing. It involves everyone dancing and stopping at the exact moment the music stops. Anyone who fails to stop has to take a penalty and carry an object that makes dancing more difficult. Sidney and Jane sit on the sidelines, while the other guests dance, humiliated. They all need Sidney and Marion too much to ignore or disobey them.
Sir Alan Ayckbourn is a prolific English playwright, director, and the author of more than seventy full-length plays between 1972 and 2009. Ten of his shows have had engagements on Broadway, and he has been heavily honored. He is a seven-time Evening Standard Award winner, has received five honorary Doctorates, and was named a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire in 1997. In 2008, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.