Milford on Sea Community Centre Milford on Sea Community Centre, Milford on Sea Darren Funnell 4 June 2023
It’s Christmas! In Summer. Well, why not?
If ever there was a playwright that does exactly what it is says on the tin, it is Alan Ayckbourn. His skill for documenting middle class conformity, writing great one-liners in light farcical settings gives a leg up to any amateur production.
‘Absurd Person Singular’, that played from 1st-4th June at the Milford on Sea Community, could just as easily talk to the three female characters who, over 3 Christmas Eve’s, find their lives reshaped as they apply their strength and resolve to the men they must contend with. It isn’t, of course. This is 1972. So, as written, it is Stanley Hopcroft who is the ascendant puppet master. Men still get the chance to witter on about how they don’t understand women, or why they make them miserable, or indeed suicidal. The latter, thankfully, no longer a mine for comedy as it once was.
Let’s ‘swipe left’ on all that, however. Cancel culture can be a bore. Was it any good? It’s a near as heck the best Ayckbourn you will have seen in Hampshire for many a year (and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some good ones). I love it when a cast and a production team instinctively know they have a humdinger and ooze confidence, have fun, and get on delivering the goods.
Wendy Mason’s deep understanding and love for the whole directorial brief stood out a mile. Nothing was overlooked. A director must know, breathe, and communicate the script to all points of the show. They must build a vision that everyone gets behind. They must inject pace. They must ‘get on with it’. Wendy owned this.
Grahame Goodyer’s set design, accompanied by artistic design flourishes from Marguerite Willcox, was a lovely thing. It needed to convey 3 very different kitchens without losing cohesion. The choice to have white flats overlayed with distinctive kitchenalia, vibrant colours and units on castors seemed so obvious you wonder why you don’t see it more. All the production team, in all their disciplines, evidently were all singing from the same hymn sheet. And that’s how you do it, really. Well done all.
I adored the cast ensemble largely because they WERE an ensemble. They unified around their characters and personal narrative. Christmas Eve’s passed. Circumstance made them different. Core personalities remained the same. They never lost site of the dramatic finish line. No weak links. And to be fair, this was a lot to do. Absurd Person Singular is a long commitment for all involved (including the audience). For the cast to keep this together, professionally, and as a team, was excellent. So, Chrissy King, Ian Hay, Hugh, and Sue Whitlock, Judit Barnard and Peter Court I am not going to dissect your performances because you were all splendid. Your effort and talents paid off.
Now, if I was to be really picky, whilst I thought it was a novel idea to use ‘Wendy’s Movers and Shakers’ to transition from Act 1 to Act 2 (and they had fun with it) the scene changes still took long enough that an interval could have just as easily been added – especially as Act 1 had already run for 50 minutes. I am not sure why we don’t put more intervals in longer plays. The Milford Community Centre is a wonderful venue and thank you to all the front of house and bar staff for their welcome, but perhaps the committee might consider a little budget for cushions on the chairs as I think I had an out of body experience having sat on them for so long.
I do worry for anyone who does Ayckbourn next as Milford’s ‘Absurd Person Singular’ has set such a very high bar of achievement it is going to take some beating. They did this by having talent, directorial and design flair but most importantly by working as a team. A round of applause all round. No, perhaps even, a standing ovation.