Six characters in search of Christmas

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Cast members from  ‘Absurd Person Singular.’ Photo: Helen Drum.

SIX characters in search of a stiff drink, three consecutive Christmases, a whirlwind of adjectives and two home appliances combine in Canberra REP’s latest silly Christmas offering, “Absurd Person Singular” opening in preview tonight (November 19). 

It’s not the only time English playwright Alan Ayckbourn has visited the contested site of Christmas, which, as director Jarrad West’s cast were quick to point out at a rehearsal yesterday (November 18), is always full of stress and tension, so likely to achieve a high level of recognition in any audience.

But in this case, set in three different family kitchens, “last Christmas”, “this Christmas” and “next Christmas”, he takes the opportunity to write almost three different plays with different styles of comedy.

Jane (Dunham) and Marion (Noble) compare notes on fly sprays. Photo: Helen Drum.

Props and set play an important part and set designer Russell Brown, with the props team of Rosanne Walker and Brenton Warren, have obviously been very busy.

At yesterday’s rehearsal, Amy Dunham as the house-proud Jane, was seen busily showing off her new kitchen and its centrepiece, a fully-automatic washing machine, rooting the play firmly in 1972.

Her devotion to the delights of household cleansers like “Mr Vim” reaches a tragi-comic low point in her line, “I must clean that stove up if it kills me”. You’ll have to see the play to see why that’s funny.

Usually actors are devoted to the individual characters they play, but in this black comedy, which ends “really crazily but ‘up’”, Dunham reassures me, most of the actors describe their characters as “awful”.

Jane consoles Eva (Roberts). Photo: Helen Drum.

Tracy Noble, for instance as Marion, explores the sin of envy in a particularly acidic manner, while as her phlegmatic husband Ronald, Chris Baldock seems happier embedded in a newspaper.

No spoilers, but Steph Roberts plays the disturbed Eva, and she’s the one who changes the most throughout the play.

Even in the most awful moments, Ayckbourn has given his lucky cast a kaleidoscope of adjectives to learn in his fast-moving script – “stupendous”, superb”, the list goes on.

“Absurd Person Singular”, Canberra REP Theatre (Theatre 3), Repertory Lane, Acton. Preview November 19, 8pm (education talk-back following performance). Season runs November 20–December 5. Bookings 6257 1950 or at the theatre.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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