top of page
  • Writer's pictureStudentGuiders

Absurd Person Singular Review


Ayckbourn has said "The best comedy springs from the utterly serious." Many of his plays combine comic and tragic elements. The tragicomedy genre in playwriting was given its name in the second century BCE by the Roman dramatist Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE). The Romans applied the term to plays that used role reversal to put lofty characters like the gods in comic situations and to portray the lower classes with tragic dignity. Tragicomedies in the 14th through 17th centuries—the Renaissance period—were primarily comic plays with some serious elements. The plays' contrasting events increased audience compassion for the characters.

In the 19th and 20th centuries tragicomedy became more sophisticated. Playwrights like Norway's Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) and Russia's Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) added verbal and situational irony to comedy. Their characters suffered realistically tragic situations and were rarely rewarded with happy outcomes.

In the aftermath of two deadly world wars, 20th-century playwrights sought meaning in a world full of suffering and European theater took a turn toward the dark and absurd. Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (1906–89), English dramatist Harold Pinter (1930–2008), and other like-minded writers formed the tragicomic "theater of the absurd" genre. They used bizarre circumstances and black comedy on stage to highlight how pointless the search for meaning seemed to be.

Inspired by writers like Chekhov and Pinter, Ayckbourn believes comedy can be just as reflective and important a genre as tragedy. He argues humor is one of the best vehicles for portraying humanity and truth on stage. The more serious and seemingly unfunny a topic appears, the more the playwright needs to find comic potential. Tragicomedy should similarly reveal the emotional honesty of a situation by avoiding the easy resolutions of a more generic comedy. "It can be funny, but let's make it truthful," Ayckbourn writes in a 1976 preface to Absurd Person Singular.

Absurd Person Singular demonstrates this balance between darkness and comedy in Act 2. The character Eva makes multiple suicide attempts, but her fellow partygoers believe she is simply clumsy. The contrast between her actions and their response creates unexpected humor. However, it also highlights the characters' agony, loneliness, and inability to understand one another.

Economic Troubles in 1970s England

When Ayckbourn wrote Absurd Person Singular in 1972, he described an anxious and fearful English middle class. Characters are concerned about money and the social standing it provides. Wealthy bank manager Ronald and architect Geoffrey face business failure. Meanwhile, entrepreneur Sidney, eager to impress his wealthier party guests, becomes successful at others' expense.

The characters' crises reflect the financial uncertainty facing the nation in the early 1970s. Property prices rose significantly in England. Mass unemployment, inflation, and violence soared, and mine workers went on strike. Prime Minister Edward Heath (1916–2005)—who took office in 1970—declared a "state of emergency" five times in four years.

Despite poverty and political chaos, a business boom meant prosperity for many middle-class English workers and families. The boom was fueled by speculators, or businesspeople who purchase high-risk assets in a volatile or constantly changing market. Families who benefited from the boom could afford larger homes in the suburbs and fancier appliances to fill their homes.

Business risks and independence seemed to be rewarded. Material wealth was associated with success. This newly competitive environment often led to corruption. British architect John Poulson (1910–93) was famously convicted of taking political bribes in 1972. Poulson became a symbol for a culture where dishonesty led to financial gain. Ayckbourn implies that his character Sidney is an unethical businessman who, like Poulson, will do whatever he can to get ahead.

Sidney's triumph also indicates a larger trend in England in which wealthy, greedy risk-takers seemed to hold more power than ever. When Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) took office as prime minister in 1979, she encouraged free markets and individual profit. During her 1979–90 tenure, she reduced government regulations, privatized public housing, and rewarded growing businesses.

Some critics view Absurd Person Singular as a critique of the middle-class focus on wealth and social status. Though Ayckbourn doesn't consider himself a political writer, he does use domestic situations to reflect broader social movements. His characters' obsession with prosperity and material success foreshadows the values of the Thatcher years in England.

Ayckbourn's Influences

Like many playwrights, Ayckbourn is inspired by a variety of fellow writers and genres.

Anton Chekhov

Russian short story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov is among Ayckbourn's biggest influences. Chekhov's plays feature characters trapped in despair, unable to change or improve their lives. Still, Chekhov also mines his characters' situations and reactions for humor. He often described his plays as comedies, though they're more commonly viewed as tragedies. In The Cherry Orchard (1904), Chekhov combines comedy and tragedy to tell the story of an aristocratic family in decline.

Ayckbourn admires the humanity evoked in Chekhov's work. He uses Chekhov as a model for how to write about serious topics like isolation and death in a comic way. In addition to following Chekhov's lead in playwriting, in 2011 Ayckbourn directed an adapted version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (1897) called Dear Uncle.

Although Ayckbourn's settings and plots draw from everyday experiences, his character interactions combine awkwardness, misunderstanding, and disappointment to reveal the absurdity in daily life. His trilogy of plays The Norman Conquests, for example, shows different characters' perspectives of the same weekend in an English country house. These plays also show Chekhov's influence by finding the tragedy and comedy in family strife and domestic routines—scenarios the audience can recognize.

Harold Pinter

English playwright Harold Pinter similarly affected Ayckbourn through his use of pauses, silences, and escalating danger on stage. Pinter's plays are often described as "comedies of menace" that use threatening situations to highlight character conflict. Ayckbourn cites Pinter's 1958 play The Birthday Party as an early inspiration.

John Osborne

John Osborne (1929–94), a fellow English playwright Ayckbourn admires, uses theater to reflect social issues and class inequality in contemporary life. Ayckbourn also comments on problems of class, wealth, and social striving in his scripts.

Luigi Pirandello and Eugène Ionesco

Other playwrights encouraged Ayckbourn to explore experimental territory. Italian writer Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936) drew attention to the artificial nature of the theater in his plays, creating a "theater-within-the-theater." French playwright Eugène Ionesco (1909–94) became known for his use of bizarre, fantastical, and darkly comic situations, helping usher in the "theater of the absurd" genre. Ayckbourn's title Absurd Person Singular reflects the impact of the theater of the absurd. Like Ionesco and Pirandello, Ayckbourn places his characters in scenarios that highlight the loneliness at the heart of their lives.

Absurd Person Singular | Characters





Sidney Hopcroft is a real estate developer in England. He and his wife Jane host the party in Act 1. At first he earns a modest middle-class income, but he becomes increasingly wealthy as the play progresses. Read More


Jane Hopcroft is Sidney's wife. She hosts the party in Act 1. She grows wealthier as the play progresses. Read More


Geoffrey Jackson is an architect who hosts the party in Act 2. He is successful at first, but his reputation is ruined when a job goes disastrously wrong. He frequently cheats on his wife Eva. Read More


Eva Jackson is Geoffrey's wife. She hosts a Christmas party at their home in Act 2. She is deeply troubled and attempts suicide several times. Read More


Ronald Brewster-Wright is a banker who hosts the party in Act 3. At first he is extremely wealthy, but his fortunes decline over the years and he becomes depressed. Read More


Marion Brewster-Wright is Ronald's wife. At first a wealthy, stylish woman, she eventually descends into alcoholism. She cohosts the party in Act 3. Read More


Dick Potter is an acquaintance of the three couples. He is loud and sociable. Though he attends parties in Acts 1 and 2, he does not appear on stage.


George is the Jacksons' large, intimidating dog who threatens the party guests in Act 2. He does not appear on stage.


Harrison is a wealthy businessman who hires Geoffrey to design a shopping complex. After the complex ceiling caves in, he lets Geoffrey take the blame. Sidney befriends Harrison in Act 3. Harrison doesn't appear on stage.


Lottie Potter is an acquaintance of the three couples. She and Dick are married. Several of the male characters are attracted to her. Though she attends parties in Acts 1 and 2, she doesn't appear on stage.

Mrs. Minns

Mrs. Minns is the Brewster-Wrights' housekeeper. She doesn't appear on stage.

Ronald's first wife

Ronald's first wife does not appear on stage. In Act 3 Ronald reveals a failed first marriage in which his wife walked out unexpectedly.


Sally is Geoffrey's mistress. He plans to leave Eva for Sally in Act 2, though he ultimately stays with Eva. Sally does not appear on stage.

Absurd Person Singular | Character Analysis



Sidney is a shrewd businessman who primarily looks out for himself. He is implied to be unethical and dishonest in his business dealings, cutting corners for profit. Easily frustrated, he pressures his wife Jane to entertain their party guests and often brings her to tears. At the end of the play Sidney's newfound wealth makes him feel superior to the other guests.


Jane is high-strung and nervous. She feels pressure to be the perfect hostess and frequently cleans house to calm her anxiety. She enjoys having the newest kitchen gadgets and giving the appearance of wealth in her home. Jane works hard to please Sidney, often disappointing him. In Act 3 she joins Sidney in forcing the other guests to play humiliating party games.


Geoffrey is shrewd and intelligent. He is a talented architect who strives to be honest in business. However, he is a selfish husband who plans to leave his wife for his mistress Sally in Act 2. He ends up staying with Eva and employing her to help him in his business. After a major professional failure, Geoffrey falls into a depression. By Act 3 he is having trouble motivating himself to work.


Eva is vulnerable and open about her problems. In Acts 1 and 2 she is unappreciated by Geoffrey, whose frequent affairs may contribute to her suicidal depression. She tries to kill herself throughout Act 2, but the guests believe she is having a series of clumsy accidents. By Act 3 Eva has recovered and taken charge of Geoffrey's business, encouraging him to find work.


Ronald is introspective and detail oriented. He is a skilled businessman who is somewhat sheltered by his wealth. Act 2 demonstrates that he is not very good at fixing household appliances. In Act 3 Ronald reveals he is dissatisfied with his life and wonders where he went wrong in a failed first marriage.


Marion is flirtatious and charming. She is accustomed to a privileged life and looks down on others with less money and prestige. When her husband's fortunes decline in Act 3, she becomes depressed and stays in bed for days at a time.

Recent Posts

See All

When infusing pantoprazole, use a separate IV line, a pump, and an in-line filter. A brown wrapper and frequent vital signs are not needed. A client has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The pro

Your paragraph text(10).png
bottom of page