Absurd Person Singular

Absurd Person Singular Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sir Alan Ayckbourn

Ayckbourn was born in London, and his parents divorced when he was still a child. He left school at the age of 17, as was common for working-class English teenagers in the 1950s. He got married at the age of 18, and took a job at the Scarborough Library Theater, which helped encourage him to write and produce plays. He succeeded in getting several plays produced in the West End in the early 1960s, including Mr. Whatnot. However, this play was a flop. Ayckbourn’s first major success was Relatively Speaking, which made him a rich man. In the 1970s, Ayckbourn was at the height of his powers, with three back-to-back hit plays, all of which dealt with the plight of the British middle class. Ayckbourn was knighted in 1997, and to this day he enjoys a stellar reputation in the British theater world, though he’s relatively unknown outside of his own country.
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Historical Context of Absurd Person Singular

Ayckbourn’s play, a study of recognizably middle-class characters, is often discussed in terms of the economic changes affecting the U.K. in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the quarter-century following the end of World War Two, the British middle class expanded. However, many pointed out that the middle class’s lack of a common culture and ideology had left its members alienated and consumed with self-loathing—an insight that lies at the core of Ayckbourn’s play. The play also briefly mentions apartheid, the system of racial segregation used in South Africa until the early 1990s.

Other Books Related to Absurd Person Singular

Ayckbourn’s play incorporates many different and almost contradictory theater styles. For example, many elements of the play, such as its middle-class setting and grim depiction of social aspiration, fit in with the social realist tradition of the “Angry Young Men” of the postwar period, particularly John Osborne, whose play Look Back in Anger (1956) is often considered the definitive exploration of these themes. At other points, Ayckbourn’s tone is closer to that of another great postwar British playwright, Harold Pinter, whose work is often associated with the Theater of the Absurd, the style that emphasizes illogical actions and speeches over coherent plot and characterization. Particularly in the second and third acts, as the characters become more despondent, the play becomes absurdist at times (the title is a dead giveaway), with Sidney, Jane, and Robert turning a blind eye to Eva’s suicide attempts. Also, the bizarre, mirthless game that Sidney organizes in Act Three evokes the famous game of “blind man’s bluff” at the end of Pinter’s Birthday Party (1957). Another term that’s often applied to Pinter’s oeuvre, “Comedy of Menace,” seems like an apt description for Absurd Person Singular.
Key Facts about Absurd Person Singular
  • Full Title: Absurd Person Singular
  • When Written: 1971
  • Where Written: London and Scarborough, England
  • Literary Period: Postwar British Theater
  • Genre: Social realism (though there are arguably some elements of Theater of the Absurd, especially in the second act)
  • Setting: An unnamed English city, over the course of three successive Christmas Eve parties
  • Climax: The arrival of Sidney and Jane Hopcroft in Act Three

Extra Credit for Absurd Person Singular

Pop-pop-popular. It’s been suggested that Ayckbourn is the most performed living English-language playwright, and the second most performed in history (after William Shakespeare, of course). To be fair, there are several other playwrights to whom the latter honor is often attributed, including Ibsen, Pinter, and Noel Coward.

Keep on keepin’ on. Though Ayckbourn is an elderly man, he continues to write and produce successful plays. His early 2000s play Private Fears in Public Places was a hit, and in 2006 it was made into a well-received film by the great French New Wave director Alain Resnais.