Absurd Person Singular is one of many comedies by Alan Ayckbourn and one of his many plays first produced in Scarborough, a provincial northern seaside town. The play represented a breakthrough in his career, as it moved from the provincial theater setting to London, a step which proved that people were fascinated by this young playwright’s ability to reflect the person in the street in his characters, to make an audience laugh at their own social faux pas, and to make them question the merits of marriage as a social institution.
After the works of the angry young men of British realist drama at the end of the 1950’s, Ayckbourn’s farces provided just what British audiences needed—a lighthearted reflection of themselves. His insight into human nature had grown by the time he wrote Absurd Person Singular, so that it moves beyond farce to tread the fine line between comedy and tragedy. The two genres appear fused in the play; although comedy prevails in the end, the tragic element leads members of the audience to continue pondering long after the play is over.
Ayckbourn’s penchant for social comment has long been ignored by critics, but he must not be dismissed as solely a writer of farce. His preoccupation with marriage, sympathy for human weakness and ineffectuality, and dislike of male insensitivity form the basis of his writings, and these preoccupations do not change; only the comic content and dramatic techniques vary. Farce is the vehicle by which he is able to illustrate what is really important to him. Although the play was a popular success in London, it is likely that Ayckbourn created provincial characters for a provincial stage so that he could show adequately the idiosyncrasies that hide beneath the social veneer of ordinary folk.