A few lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing a world whose seasons are in disarray, perfectly encapsulate the experience of seeing theatre in Scotland at present: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world, by their increase, now knows not which is which.”
Not only is Pitlochry Festival Theatre currently staging Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, a play set over three consecutive Christmas Eves, the Tron’s summer show is a revival of Anthony Neilson’s The Lying Kind, whose farcical action unfolds against a backdrop of tinsel and holly wreaths.
The work of Alan Ayckbourn is almost a mainstay of the annual summer programme at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Over the years the company has made a significant dent in the prolific dramatist’s output, producing 24 of his more than 70 full-length plays. Last year, there was a bonus for aficionados when the theatre revived his ambitious trilogy of plays, Damsels in Distress.
Absurd Person Singular, one of Ayckbourn’s earliest successes, is also something of a three-in-one theatrical bonanza. The play unfolds over successive Christmas Eves in the respective homes of three very different couples. These increasingly uncomfortable gatherings may take place over the festive season, but Ayckbourn games our expectations by setting the action “offstage” in a trio of kitchens whose décor and condition mirror their owners’ personalities and state of mind. Now and then, a door opens to offer a glimpse of fairy lights or to divulge a few bars of seasonal music or sherry-fuelled laughter. Otherwise, the atmosphere remains resolutely cheerless.
First published in The Times, Thursday November 5 2015
Talk about prescient. This new play with songs revolving around the members of a North Lanarkshire choir opened in the week Oxford University published a study suggesting that community singing can play a powerful role in reducing loneliness and promoting social cohesion.
The list of problems afflicting the characters in The Choir – book by Paul Higgins with music by Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue – is seemingly endless, touching upon mental illness and bereavement, unemployment, marital breakup and class tensions. The play’s message – there’s no heartache so great it can’t be solved by a rousing singsong – may sound facile, but it is communicated with such verve and commitment in Dominic Hill’s production that you end up forgiving the conventional sentimentality of the storytelling.
As the writer of nearly 80 full-length plays, there can’t be much Alan Ayckbourn does not know about the creative process. The thrill of letting the imagination run riot is at the heart of his 2005 play Improbable Fiction – a theme he explores through the dreams and frustrations of a motley rural creative writing circle, led by the mild-mannered Arnold (Ronnie Simon).