Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Absurd Person Singular, 2nd September 2008, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Cast (In order of appearance):

AbsurdJane - Sara Crowe
Sidney - Matthew Cottle
Eva - Honeysuckle Weeks
Geoffrey - Marc Bannerman
Marion - Deborah Grant
Ronald - David Griffin

A weird title for what is actually a marvellous comedy by the legandary Alan Ayckbourn.

The play was first produced in Scarborough in 1972. I can quite see why it is still popular 36+ years later.

The concept is a simple one. 3 Couples, 3 Christmases each in a different couple's home and the events that happen between the couples.

But this is one of those comedies that, whilst the humour just keeps coming, behind the laughs is a quite serious look at the way three totally different couples not only interact with the other couples but also with their own partners.

It's also one of those plays when I can almost guarantee that anybody watching could either relate to at least one of the characters themselves or know somebody just like them.

With a cast of just six there is no room for weak acting and the casting in this case is excellent and they do not fail to deliver a great show from beginning to end.

As always I won't spoil the storyline but the 3 couples are very different from each other. Crowe and Cottle play the scatty rather eccentric pair. Weeks and Bannerman take on the more serious, rather depressing, couple. Griffin and Grant are rewarded with being the more elderly, supposedly more respectable, husband and wife.

Sara Crowe we have seen before in the play Private Lives, in that she was very excellent. The brilliance continued in Absurd Person Singular. Sara is one of those people who can switch so easily from comedy to "serious" acting and vice-versa. I have got to say that in Act II of Absurd she had the audience laughing so much it was actually getting hard to concentrate on the rest of the stage action. Sara has a varied background with a long list of theatrical credits and lots of TV appearances such as Alas Smith and Jones (BBC), Born and Bred (BBC) and even well known movies like Four Weddings and A Funeral.

Matthew Cottle is a gifted comedy actor. His acting style reminds me of a young Richard Briers. However, whilst Matthew's credits do include several farces, he can quite obviously perform the straight stuff too. Macbeth, Billy Liar and a Christmas Carol are just three of many stage shows he has appeared in. The Bill, Eastenders and Holby City are just a few TV examples and A Christmas Carol and Chaplin just a couple of movie credits.

If Matthew Cottle appears in a play near you soon go and see him, I don't think he will disappoint you.

Honeysuckle WeeksHoneysuckle Weeks, of Foyle's War stardom, has the most non-comedic, dramatic role here. There is not much more to say here other than the fact she was bloody brilliant.

I am sure Act II will live in the memories of anybody who went to see this play. If not for the laughter from Crowe's and Cottles roles than from the dramatics Weeks performs in the background. An utterly amazing scene.

Actually I will mention here that unusually there are 3 acts in this play, with a short interval between each, whilst the impressive set is changed.

Now on to Marc Bannerman!

How easy it is to believe everything you read in the press and to go to a show with preconcieved ideas about a particular individual. All because the ins and outs of their private lives have been plastered in the tabloids nationwide. Admitedly this was not helped by Marc's appearance on I'm a celebrity get me out of here. I had to wonder if this was not mentioned amongst his credits, in the programme, if it was an event in his life he would rather forget?

Well whatever happened in real life did not affect Marc's acting ability. I found him rather convincing as the rather sombre, apparently uncaring, Geoffrey who underneath it all is really a bit of a softie.

It is quite easy to see how Marc landed his 3 year role in Eastenders as Gianni Di Marco and I am sure he will be back on TV soon once this tour ends.

If I went through Deborah Grant's previous credits here I'd be typing all night. In theatre there's everything from Bedroom Farce to A Woman of No Importance. TV ranges from Minder to Doctors and to name a few movies Otley, Isadora and Scandal. A huge list from a highly talented actress.

The story of Deborah's character, Marion, is an interesting one to watch throughout the play. Deborah displays the changes in Marion's confidence over the 3 year period with convincing accuracy.

Finally David Griffin. Well poor David, whether he likes it or not, will always be somewhat typecast for his permanent role in Keeping Up Appearances for the BBC. However since he trained at the Italia Conti Stage School he has amassed a huge list of appearances on stage and screen. Although the screen credits appear to indicate a huge loyalty to the BBC. In the movies he was in Trog, Rollerball, Privates on Parade and many others.

David's role in Absurd Person Singular is that of a rather "under-the-thumb-from-his-domineering-wife" husband. Given that in Keeping Up Appearances Mrs Bucket (Patricia Routledge) has the same effect on him it can't have been hard for David to take on this role which he performs with ease.

All 3 acts are great but if I had to choose Act II rates for me as one of the best scenes in comedy ever. Act I falls close behind. Act III is very different from the other two scenes. This is intentional on Ayckbourn's part. He admits some people have said this changes the balance of the play. However if you look back at the characters and the story that has passed by the time you get to this final act I can understand why he end it in the way he does.

If you haven't gathered by now I really enjoyed Absurd Person Singular and by the comments I overheard as I left the theatre so did everybody else.

I would gladly recommend this comedy to anybody.

However, this incredible performance was actually the first show this cast had done. Also being opening night, and being members of the Friends Of The Devonshire Park Theatre, we had the opportunity to meet the cast after the show rather than hanging around the stage door.

Now this is where I am going to have a bit of a moan about the Friends Of The Devonshire Park Theatre. What is the point of this first night "meet and greet" if the cast aren't commited to stay to it for at least 20 minutes or so?

Sara Crowe had to leave (for personal reasons) and I understand David Griffin had to drive somewhere so he left after just a couple of minutes.

I found this somewhat annoying as that is 33% of the cast gone for what is meant to be a pre-arranged event.

Also a meet and greet should be that with the stars meeting and greeting the people who had come to see them, not propping themselves up at the bar or hiding in a corner.

Marc Bannerman and a so-much-shorter Me!There was only one member of the cast who instantly mingled amongst the crowd and greeted everyone like an old friend. And I mean everyone young and old (oh and by crowd we're only talking about 30-40 people). That person was the one the national press had brainwashed me into having preconceived ideas about them. That person was Marc Bannerman.

As is normally the case these days the audience was mainly of the older generation.

Marc Bannerman, the press can say what they like, but for us you were a gentleman. My wife found you charming, I know all the old ladies found you charming and whether you were tired or not after the performance you did not show it in the slightest. You also talked to everybody without appearing rushed or coming across as the big "I am important celebrity" the press make you out to be, and you ask people a bit about themselves. You are a refreshing change. Thank you.

Although being a Friend Of The Devonshire Park Theatre gives us this so called priviledge on opening night I think, more often than not, I'd rather take my chances on another night and meet the stars out in the cold.

I can't see the point in going to an event where the people who are meant to be there are not there or if they are there they give the impression that they don't really want to be there in the first place. Something is not quite right there.

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