Review – Absurd Person Singular, Garrick Theatre

Thursday 6 December 2007

As previously mentioned, the Whingers hate Christmas.

For them it means the hassle and misery of popping down to Asda to purchase their respective cut price meals-for-one for the great day (to be consumed in their respective homes with only a sweet sherry for company) while happy, rosy cheeked families skip down the aisles. A depressing reminder of the Whingers’ very sad lives.

But they do quite like kitchens.

So the prospect of Bill Kenwright‘s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 hit play Absurd Person Singular at the Garrick was seen by the Whingers as a bit of a potential curate’s egg, it being set on three successive Christmases (bad) yet following the tribulations besetting three couples in their respective kitchens (good).

Plus it has what passes these days for an “all-star” cast, although “all-star” to the Whingers would mean luminaries of the standing of Alastair Sim, Dandy Nichols and Ingrid Bergman (sadly all dead) and Googie Withers.

This one features Jane Horrocks and John Gordon Sinclair.

So, it’s 1972, It’s the year of Bloody Sunday, the year when Ford stopped production of the Zephyr. Geri Halliwell and Jude Law were born. The Duke of Windsor died. Idi Amin expelled Ugandan Asians and the dockers (remember those?) went on strike resulting in the government declaring a state of emergency. Depressing.

And depressingly it’s 1972 all over again on the stage of the Garrick Theatre: three acts, two intervals and a notion of “comedy” that really doesn’t stand up any more.

Ayckbourn states in the programme:

“…over a large area one can detect a faint sense of guilt that there is something called enjoyment going on. Should we, people seem to be asking, be sitting here laughing like this? It’s to do with the mistaken belief that because it’s funny, it can’t be serious – which of course isn’t true at all. Heavy, no; serious yes.”

Funny? No. It isn’t.

There was precious little enjoyment going on within the Whingers’ party (which included City Slicker and webcowgirl and London Theatregoer) other than an appreciation of the quality of the performances and the odd laugh.

City Slicker begged to leave in the first interval but the Whingers strapped her down.

Unfortunately Act II was even less funny. In fact it was distasteful. In this “farce” act, the deeply depressed Eva (Lia Williams), driven to desperation by her husband’s (John Gordon Sinclair) philandering, attempts and fails to commit suicide in various ways but no-one notices. Oh, how the audience laughed.

Yes, most of the audience were laughing but to be honest they looked as though they had been sitting there since 1972 anyway. The man next to webcowgirl spent most of the time asleep and was woken up only by his own snoring.

The Whingers, meanwhile, sat with grim expressions. Now, the Whingers aren’t known for their sensitivity – indeed they are more noted for their ability to laugh at the misfortunes of others; Shaudenfraude is their favourite word. But this…

On the plus side the costumes by Brigid Guy are marvellous.

The cast give it everything too. Full marks for effort: David Horovitch is magnificent as Ronald. Andrew thought Jenny Seagrove was something of a revelation, comedy-wise, although Phil wasn’t convinced (appearing to be drunk is something Phil does a lot, but doesn’t usually garner him applause at the end of the evening).

Jane Horrocks and David Bamber were good too, although there was a bit of a Groundskeeper Willie moment which took the entire audience aback when Bamber removed his shirt to reveal a hugely inappropriate set of defined muscles. He’s not just toned: he has one of those Charles Atlas physiques with more sticky out veins than Andrew has crows’ feet. According to some in the entourage, the word to describe such definition is “ripped”, though moving in theatrical circles as they do, this is a word only familiar to Whingers when used as a prefix to “off” and usually during a row about theatre programmes.

Act III was the most satisfying, but really this just felt like a play utterly unworthy of revival and best left in the cultural footnotes of the seventies alongside Love They Neighbour and The Dukes of Hazard.


The highlight of the evening was the programme, according to which Lia Williams “was named the Critics’ Circle Most Performing Newcomer” which the Whingers think sounds absolutely exhausting but is a category which should definitely be revived.

14 Responses to “Review – Absurd Person Singular, Garrick Theatre”

  1. Webcowgirl Says:

    Oh come on, you didn’t like the Dukes of Hazzard?

    Yeah, I am really at a loss as to why they revived this. I mean, hey, I could have seen “Bad Girls: The Musical!” instead!

  2. There was a lot of vitriol on various bulletin boards to the effect that in order to get Absurd Person Sing. in, Bill Kenwright had – allegedly – bounced Bad Girls out before it had found its feet. Ha, if I’d had my way it would have found them in concrete on the bed of the North sea.

  3. Ian: That’s rather harsh. While Bad Girls wasn’t a particularly great show, it was a good enough show (read: something for a matinee or push for light entertainment). That said, it wasn’t selling tickets and Nimax were probably just as willing to enforce the stop clause as Kenwright was to get APS pushed in. I remember being amazed when I heard that APS was in previews – Bad Girls had only closed some two weeks before. Sounds like this is one to skip as well. Poor Garrick. Maybe they should have brought in panto instead.

  4. As a show, yes, Bad Girls was merely mediocre.

    But the publicity apparatus, programme content etc left me in no doubt that its creators didn’t want it to be judged as *just* a show, but as the latest manifestation of a major cultural and even social achievement. I was enraged that the programme included selected quotes from a former convict turned reform agitator who had in fact died several years earlier and so was in no position to pass comment on even the later seasons of the TV series, never mind the stage musical, yet her words were being used as if they applied to every manifestation of Bad Girls.

    So, fine: having made such grandiose claims, it deserved the courtesy of being judged by the standards it had chosen for itself, and by those standards it was not just woeful, it was downright insulting and exploitative.

  5. “best left in the cultural footnotes of the seventies alongside Love They Neighbour and The Dukes of Hazard.”

    Have you just located the play in the wider discourse?

  6. Ian: Ah. I was in the US when most of the pre-show hype machine was running, and as a spoiled American who expects a free playbill (or multiple free playbills if friends back home make requests) at every show I don’t buy programmes and appear to have been spared.

  7. @ Andrew Haydon: Damn! Did we? Bugger. Didn’t mean to. Sorry. Won’t happen again.

    @ The rest of you: If we’d known Bad Girls was going to be such a political hot potato we’d have gone and seen it. Why didn’t you tell us before it was yanked? Thanks for nothing.

  8. Andrew: While you may have missed Bad Girls in the West End, attendees at the final performances said that the cameras were out in full force, and a DVD should be streeting next year.

  9. Tom Davis Says:

    has lia williams learnt to speak properly since she did the hothouse? i was quite concerned for her after seeing that…

  10. Well, during the second act she says not a word, though in the final minute or two she begins singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas.

  11. Graham Says:

    I thought I’d sqeeze this in before it closes next week and, despite prior warning from your review, I was astounded when Mr B took off his shirt. Even Madonna’s arms aren’t that big.

  12. I saw “Absurd Person Singular” last weekend and I was bored to tears.

  13. […] they come upon Jane Horrocks (looking twenty years younger than she did in the wretched and unfunny Absurd Person Singular), playing the part of a really pretty prostitute. They give her a pile of money … and now […]

  14. […] to get through and really not particularly funny. The only consolation was that I went with the West End Whingers, a pair of guys I’d been dying to hang out […]

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