Friday, February 5, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Taking Steps

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Taking Steps (1979)
It is one of the great fallacies relating to Alan Ayckbourn that he is a farceur. Officially the playwright considers he has only ever written a single true farce in 80 full-length plays.
Taking Steps is actually the third of three farces written by the playwright, but given the other two are his first two plays (The Square Cat and Relatively Speaking) and not available to produce or ever been published, Taking Steps is in all respects his only farce.
Dedicated to the master farceur Ben Travers - who came to see the original Scarborough production - Taking Steps was created partly in answer to a conundrum. Can you do a farce in the round given you can't have the doors which are the prerequisite of so many classic farces?
Alan's solution was to present a farce without doors but with floors in which three storeys of the same house are overlaid on top of each other with action simultaneously taking place on the different 'floors' at the same time.
As well as being the only play he considers to be a farce, it is one of only a handful of plays the playwright wrote specifically for the round and which he believes cannot be performed satisfactorily in the pros arch or end-stage spaces.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The image above (click to enlarge) shows Alan Ayckbourn's first sketch of his idea for the set for Taking Steps. Alan has always had a strong idea of how his plays should be staged and always has a clear idea of how it will work on stage.
This very rough sketch shows the idea of the 'flat' stairs to each floor at the eve of the stage as well as showing the mix of various room props such as the bed, seats and sofa.
Alan particularly enjoyed the fact that as audiences exited the theatre via the stage at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, many people would walk up and down the 'stairs'.
The second piece from the archive is a bit of history with a visit to the London production from a well-known couple.

As far as records show, this was the first visit to a West End production of an Ayckbourn play by the Prince Of Wales and his fiancee just two weeks after their engagement was announced on 24 February 1981.
As reported in the Archiving Ayckbourn's previous blog on Relatively Speaking, it was not unusual for members of the Royal family to visit Ayckbourn productions during the '60 through the '80s.
Their reaction to the production was unrecorded, but this was the final West End premiere not to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn and, sadly, a production that proved to be very disappointing for the playwright himself.
Taking Steps opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 28 September 1979 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website announces patronage

Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website is proud to announce it has agreed to be the patron of the drama company Dick & Lottie.
Based in Huddersfield, it is the only amateur company in the UK dedicated to the works of Alan Ayckbourn and during its first ten years has produced 25 of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays in 30 productions and public rehearsed readings.
Founded by John Cotgrave and Richard McArtney in 2004, the company is driven by John and Richard’s passion for Alan Ayckbourn’s plays. Ostensibly based at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, Dick & Lottie has also been touring its productions since 2015.
As the company reaches its 30th production, Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website is delighted to celebrate the passion, commitment and dedication of the company to Alan Ayckbourn’s writing by becoming its patron and forging closer links with Dick & Lottie.
Aside from the patronage, the company has previous links with Alan Ayckbourn, having performed for the playwright in his home-town of Scarborough and also seen Lady Ayckbourn perform with the company its fundraising Ayckbourn Readathon in 2014.
Members of Dick & Lottie with Alan Ayckbourn in 2015
Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website founder and Alan Ayckbourn’s Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, feels as the website’s only patronage, this is the perfect association.
“I have known John & Richard for many years and seeing their company, Dick & Lottie, grow and succeed beyond anyone’s expectations has been a pleasure. I have met few people so committed to producing an authentic Ayckbourn experience and their productions constantly set a benchmark for amateur - and even professional - productions of his plays. I’m delighted the website is now the company’s patron and will be playing a part in the company’s future.”
John Cotgrave, Artistic Director of Dick & Lottie, is delighted at the recognition and association with the website and Alan Ayckbourn’s Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd.
“Dick & Lottie is thrilled and honoured to have such a prestigious patron. It is a kite mark recognising the quality we achieve with the staging of Ayckbourn's plays - past and present. We look forward to a burgeoning relationship in the coming years.”
Further information on Dick & Lottie can be found via the Dick & Lottie Facebook page and at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.
For any reader wanting a clarification of what a Patron / Patronage is (in this context), please read the second comment below.

Dick & Lottie is about to tour with Alan Ayckbourn's Neighbourhood Watch.
Neighbourhood Watch can be seen at The Coach House Theatre, Malvern, from 16 - 17 February (click here for details and bookings) and at South Hill Park, Bracknell from 18 - 19 February (click here for details).
Further information about the production and future Dick & Lottie productions can be found at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here or via the Dick & Lottie Facebook page.

Monday, February 1, 2016

This Week: 1 February 2016

This Week & Coming Soon
Until 6 February: Hero's Welcome & Confusions at the Cambridge Arts Centre (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
8 - 13 February: Hero's Welcome & Confusions at the Theatre Royal Windsor (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
15 - 20 February: Hero's Welcome & Confusions at the Theatre Royal Bath (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
22 - 27 February: Hero's Welcome & Confusions at Devonshire Park Theatres, Eastbourne (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
29 February - 5 March: Hero's Welcome & Confusions at Malvern Theatres (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn is to receive the Oxford Literary Festival Honorary Fellowship. To mark this, the playwright will be in conversation with his biographer Paul Allen at the festival on Sunday 10 April. The event will take place at the Sheldonian Theatre at 12pm and tickets are priced from £10 - £25. Further information can be found here.
> Alan Ayckbourn has once again contributed a feline doodle for National Doodle Day on 5 February 2016. You can get details of how to bid for his doodle at the website here and help to raise money for Epilepsy Action.
> A UK tour of Relatively Speaking starring Robert Powell and Liza Goddard is to launch this autumn. A co-production between the Theatre Royal Bath and Kenny Wax Productions, the production will be directed by Robin Herford with more details to be announced soon.
> The end-stage tour of Alan Ayckbourn's latest play moves to Cambridge Arts Theatre this week. Hero's Welcome and the playwright's acclaimed revival of his 1975 classic Confusions can be seen at the venue until 6 February.

Fact Of The Week
A new weekly feature for the blog highlights a fact about Alan Ayckbourn and his plays pertinent to the week in question.
West End return: In January 2002, Alan Ayckbourn to all intents and purposes severed his ties with the West End. The treatment of his Damsels In Distress trilogy led him to announce he was quitting the West End and he would not let his new plays be produced there; since that time, no Ayckbourn play written since 2002 has been seen in the commercial West End. The only time then that Alan has returned to the West End was in 2009 when his acclaimed Scarborough production of Woman In Mind transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre, directed by Alan and starring Janie Dee. This marked the first and last time - as of writing - that Alan has directed in the West End since 2002.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Sisterly Feelings

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Sisterly Feelings (1979)
Sisterly Feelings was Alan Ayckbourn's first 'chance' play in which an element of chance is incorporated into the play and affects the course of the action.
In this case, the flip of a coin at the end of scene 1 determines which of two following scenes take place. Other 'chance' plays include It Could Be Any One Of Us and Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays; although not Intimate Exchanges which Alan describes as a 'choice' play as although the action can be different each night, the decisions are taken prior to rather than during the performance.
The template for Intimate Exchanges though came with Alan's early ideas for Sisterly Feelings and how far he could incorporate chance into a play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The first archive item above (click on image to enlarge) shows an early idea for the structure of Sisterly Feelings. Although it looks like a mathematical formula, it is actually a play structure with four scenes with each scene having a choice of two outcomes leading to a possible eight variations (Intimate Exchanges utilises the same structure but with a coda which takes the outcome to 16 possible variations).
For those wondering what the letters mean in the diagrams above, the names had not yet been decided on so we have Girl A (GA), Girl B (GB) etc alongside Male A (MA), Male B (MB) etc.
The lower diagram explores the action of the first scene with Girl A going with either Male A or Male B whilst the parents are Girl C and Male D with another couple, Girl D and Male E being the constant couple of the play.
This article is notable for also showing Alan's original idea for the company - given the theatre had a consistent repertory company at the time and how close to deadline Alan was writing his plays, he tended to know in advance who would be available.
So in the circled area we have Bate (James Bate), Bower (Robin Bowerman), Herf (Robin Herford), Murf (Robin Murphy); Stan (Stanley Page), Terry (unknown), Bridge (Judy Bridgland), Al (Alison Skilbeck), Lav (Lavinia Bertram), Shel (Shelagh Stuttle). All these actors were in the premiere production alongside John Arthur and Christopher Gray.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The second image (click to enlarge) fleshes out the bare-bones idea of the note above and we see there are now character names - most of which survive to the final play; aside from Donald which is replaced by Stafford.
This is the final note in existence relating to the more complex structure of the play which would be altered to a simpler structure with a common opening scene, choice of two second scenes, choice of two third scenes and a common final scene for the final play.
As ever with Alan Ayckbourn, nothing is ever thrown away though and this idea for a continually branching play would resurface three years later in Intimate Exchanges.
Sisterly Feelings opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 10 January 1979 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.