Absent Person Singular
The absence of characters in ‘Absent Person Singular’ has a dramatic effect because the audience is aware of the fact that they are missing. Throughout the play, we meet all the main characters in each act, with the exception of Dick and Lottie Potter and George, the dog. The audience is made aware of Dick and Lottie Potter and George because a constant reference is made to them, The expectation of the audience is to eventually meet these characters. The dramatic tension created by this expectation is never broken, except perhaps, when we realise we’ll never meet them.
At the beginning, Alan Ayckbourn’s use of absent characters is for comedy, but as the play goes on, the humour darkens. In Act 1, Sidney and Jane Hopcroft are hosting this Christamas party. The audience is made aware of Dick and Lottie Potter when Sidney says ‘It’s only Dick and Lottie Potter’. At one point when Jane, the hostess, leaves to buy tonic water and she too, is an absent character. However, unlike the party the Potters, the audience have met her and do not anticipate meeting her in the same way as they do anticipating Dick and Lottie Potter.
Having already met Jane, the audience knows who she is, what she looks like, but the Potters, on the other hand, are shown to the audience only through other characters in the play. For example in the first act Sidney says, ‘Very colourful. They are both teachers, you know’. The third character, we do not meet in this act is George. He is left by his owners, Geoffrey and Eva. The image of the dog is exaggerated in the minds of the audience because in the first act Eva says, ‘he’s grown into a sort of yak’.
In the second act, the image of George, becomes much more negative when the audience is told by Marion that George bit Dick Potter’s leg. Ayckbourn uses the idea of ‘pictures on the radio are better pictures on the television’. In the second act, the audience realizes that a character can be seen either physically present on-stage, but does not participate either mentally or emotionally in what is going on around them. The perfect example of this is Eva. In Act 2, she is writing a suicide note, while Geoffrey, oblivious to what she is doing, continues to talk to her.
They both have ignored the fact that they have guests until the last minute. When Geoffrey finally realizes Eva’s motives, he desperately tries to help her. He even goes as far as going to find Eva’s doctor. The audience is just as aware of Geoffrey’s physical absence as they are of Eva’s emotional absence. There are very subtle references to the doctor that makes the audience realize that Geoffrey is missing. With Eva, we feel sorry for her because she is in a neurotic state. Along with this, the audience feels sympathetic towards Geoffrey and Eva Jackson because they are in the middle of marriage break-up.
References to Dick and Lottie Potter are made throughout the act too. Therefore, the audience are conscious of their presence in the play, but their absence on-stage. In the final act of the play, Marion is inebriated and she happens to be the hostess of the party. However, she spends a lot of the time in her room, this makes the audience aware of her absence. At the beginning of the play, Eva and Ronald are on-stage, but Geoffrey isn’t. The absence of Geoffrey makes the audience wonder about the Jackson’s marriage and in addition to that it holds suspense.
Sidney and Jane are absent for sometime, however, Geoffrey, Eva and Ronald talk them about. They refer to the Hopcroft’s rise in society. The previous acts have had a set structure where by the host and hostess are on-stage first and then the guests are introduced. This act, conversely, has a different structure. As the audience is used to the set structure, they immediately detect the change. Ayckbourn has not only changed the structure of the play, but he has also changed the mood of the play. The comedy has darkened and become almost tragic. The three characters that were absent have been completely removed from this act.
In the previous two acts, the Potters and George have created entertainment, but in the final act, their absence leaves the audience feeling sad. Even though, they are absent, they are talked of. Again, this shows the tragic side of the play. When the audience is told that George has been given away because the Jackson’s cannot afford to keep him, they sympathize for them. The audience learn that the Potters have taken Ronald’s children mountaineering. When Ronald says, ‘I always meant to take them on myself’, the audience has sympathy for him because it is unfortunate that he is unable to take his own children somewhere when he wanted to. Absurd Person Singular’ is based on changes in life and how the humour that follows it.
The audience is very aware when characters are absent in the play they are impinging on their thoughts. I think that Ayckbourn uses this technique deliberately to keep the audience aware of all the characters, both on-stage and off-stage. As mentioned before the play slowly moves towards a tragedy, with its traumas and dilemmas. I think this a great dramatic achievement because it shows that Ayckbourn was written the play so that the audience is focused on all the characters not just the characters on-stage.