Theatre

Absurd Person Singular

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

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Neil Cooper

four stars

DO NOT be fooled by the initially kitsch-looking trappings of Alan Ayckbourn's 1972 dinner party comedy. If those last three words alone suggest something cringe-worthily middle-class, what forty-six years ago was painfully current now looks like a devastating prophecy of how property developing spivs came to rule the world.

Taking place over three Christmas Eves, the play's conceit is to set each of three acts in the kitchen of the respective des-res where the assorted seasonal shindigs take place. This sees the action move from the suburban new build of the upwardly mobile Jane and Sidney Hopcroft, then to Eva and Geoffrey Jacksons' thoroughly modern apartment, before alighting at the crumbling pile owned by Ronald and Marion Brewster-Wright. As relationships develop, what starts out as a sit-com style bit-of-a-do moves into a more troubling world barely hidden behind the party faces on show.

The result in Richard Baron's deftly nuanced revival is fascinatingly agonising, as the desperation of keeping up appearances collapses into chaos. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the second act, when Helen Mallon's broken Eva wordlessly attempts fifty-seven varieties of suicide while everyone obliviously attempts to tidy up the mess. As high-rolling architect Geoffrey and old school banker Ronald are effectively consumed by Alex Scott Fairley's Sidney Hopcroft, a predatory Del Boy in waiting, it is the women who suffer most as they are all sidelined to their own self-destruction.

If such domestic damage is bad enough, it is only the by-product of vulgarian aspirations. As the grotesque final scene spirals into manipulated mayhem, the Sidneys of the world may be winning, but only because we let them.