Absurd Person Singular | Study Guide

Sir Alan Ayckbourn

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Absurd Person Singular | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

Sidney and Jane—a middle-class couple—host a Christmas party at their home in England. They're anxious to impress important guests—banker Ronald and his wife Marion, along with architect Geoffrey and his wife Eva. However, the party doesn't go as planned. Jane spills soda on Ronald and the hosts run out of tonic water for drinks. Jane gets caught in a downpour when she goes out to get more tonic water.

Sidney, meanwhile, has several awkward encounters at the party. He tries to befriend Ronald and Geoffrey, and he asks Ronald for a bank loan to finance a housing development. Eva confesses to Sidney that she suffers from mental illness. Geoffrey reveals to the two other men that he frequently cheats on Eva. Though Sidney hopes the guests will be impressed with the new appliances in the kitchen, they find the house a cheap attempt to appear rich.

Geoffrey, who is also looking for work, asks Ronald to introduce him to wealthy businessman Harrison. Geoffrey hopes to design Harrison's new shopping complex.

After the party Sidney and Jane are disappointed things didn't go more smoothly, and each blames the other. Sidney regrets that they never played any party games.

Act 2

The following year Geoffrey and Eva host a Christmas gathering. Before the guests arrive, Geoffrey tells Eva that he plans to leave her for his mistress Sally. Eva, deeply depressed, writes a suicide note and attempts to kill herself several times. Each time Geoffrey or one of the guests stops her, assuming she is making clumsy mistakes.

Meanwhile Geoffrey says that he is discouraged with the shopping complex job. Harrison, he claims, refuses to pay for necessary improvements. Though Sidney has had a successful business year, Geoffrey finds him dishonest and refuses to work for him.

While Geoffrey finds a doctor to attend to Eva, the guests engage in household chores in the kitchen. Jane cleans the oven, Ronald tries to replace a light fixture, and Sidney works to unclog the sink. Most of their attempts fail. Ronald shocks himself on the light, and Jane accidentally soaks Sidney's shirtfront. Eva—who is exhausted from sleeping pills—leads the dejected guests in a Christmas carol.

Act 3

The following year Ronald and Marion host a Christmas gathering. Ronald has had a rough business year and can't afford to fix the home's broken heating system. Marion is drinking more than usual and spending most of her time in bed.

Eva and Geoffrey, who have stayed together after all, argue about Geoffrey's career. The shopping complex caved in, Geoffrey was blamed, and his professional reputation has been ruined. Eva urges Geoffrey to ask Sidney for work but Geoffrey refuses.

Ronald muses about the end of his first marriage and wonders what went wrong. He is having similar troubles relating to Marion. When Marion comes downstairs to join the party, she complains about aging, worried she is losing her looks and charm.

Over the past year the newly wealthy Sidney and Jane have become rich and obnoxious. Consequently, when they arrive no one wants to let them in. Though the guests try to hide and pretend no one is home, the couple enters through an unlocked door. They distribute Christmas presents to everyone. Despite Geoffrey's reluctance, Eva asks Sidney to hire him.

Sidney announces that they'll finally play the party games they didn't play the previous years. He and Jane put on music and start a game of "Musical Forfeits." The players must dance while the music is on. The last person to stop dancing once the music is turned off gets an embarrassing "forfeit," or penalty.

None of the guests want to play, but Sidney and Jane force them to their feet. The guests acquire humiliating forfeits like dancing with an orange between their knees or a spoon in their mouth. As their movements become more frenzied and chaotic, Sidney shouts at the guests to continue dancing.

Absurd Person Singular Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Sidney and Jane host their party.

Rising Action

2 Sidney and Geoffrey ask Ronald for professional favors.

3 Sidney experiences increased success at work.

4 Geoffrey tells Eva he's ending their marriage.

Climax

5 Eva makes several unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Falling Action

6 Ronald and Marion's wealth declines.

Resolution

7 Jane and Sidney force the other couples to play party games.

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