Friday, February 24, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970
After the founder of Scarborough's Library Theatre, Stephen Joseph, had died in 1967, it was not certain who - if anyone - could be found to replace him and take the company forward.
Between 1967 and 1971, the role of the Director of Productions (essentially Artistic Director) was appointed annually and for the first two years, the position had been taken by Rodney Wood.
There is nothing to indicate that Rodney was considered a long-term solution to the need for an Artistic Director though, but the appointment for 1969 did begin to address this situation.
For that year, Alan Ayckbourn was asked to take on the role, despite the fact he was still a full-time employee of the BBC based in Leeds.
Alan agreed and took charge of both the 1969 and 1970 seasons, programming the plays, scheduling, casting actors and directing the majority of the productions.
Alan Ayckbourn with his two sons photographed for a
article in the Radio Times in 1969.
Copyright: Radio Times
It was a slightly strange situation as Alan was essentially trying to protect the legacy of Stephen Joseph and help the company survive. But the company was in a precarious position, reduced to just a three month summer season and with no money to pay the Artistic Director; Alan was employed with only the offer of accommodation for the summer available.
Alan also had the pressing problem of having to pretend he was still in Leeds much of the time, getting his secretary to reroute his calls from the BBC to the Library Theatre! As he noted in an interview in 1970 after leaving the BBC: "I was hardly ever there, anyway."
These two years could be seen as the test-bed for Alan and his ability to run the Library Theatre and whether he was capable of running the company successfully; certainly his writing and directing credentials were not in doubt by now.
A publicity shot of Alan Ayckbourn
in Scarborough in 1970.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
That Alan was keen to ensure Stephen's legacy of encouraging new writing survived and thrived was also not in doubt; given how the same system had nurtured Alan and given him so much opportunity, it could be taken as a given. Between 1969 and 1970, Alan programmed nine plays at the Library Theatre, five of which were new plays and six were directed by Alan himself.
His championing of new work was also something he was well aware was not something that was prevalent in regional theatres at the time, as he noted in an article written in 1970.
"The new theatres, then, are the most likely to include that play with the grandiose description so often found on playbills, 'World Premiere': theatres with fresh audiences who come prepared. The season at Scarborough, which I've been running myself for the past couple of years, can safely present new plays in over half the programme, thanks mainly to the enlightened policy introduced by its founder, Stephen Joseph, over ten years ago."
Of course, the Library Theatre now had two advantages in its aim to champion new work. The first being the presence of a new play every year by Alan Ayckbourn - the success of which was as close to a guarentee in theatre as possible - as well as royalties from Alan Ayckbourn's West End productions.
The latter had not kicked into high gear yet, but the theatre benefitted substantially from Relatively Speaking's West End premiere in 1967 and was about to become a regular source of income from 1970 when How The Other Half Loves kick-started an almost perpetual Ayckbourn presence in the West End for the next three decades.
The famous dining room scene from Alan Ayckbourn's
hit 1969 play How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
It was not all plain sailing though as Alan's first season as Director Of Productions saw the Library Theatre's attendances drop significantly. A point raised by the board at Scarborough Theatre Trust's annual general meeting.
"[The] Secretary felt that the 1969 season had been very successful artistically but there had been a considerable drop in the attendance at the box office which the Trust felt was due to the choice of plays. The Secretary hoped that more consideration would be given to the early season audiences in 1970. Mt Ayckbourn noted this and told the meeting that he was planning to write a musical for the 1970 season."
Whether Alan actually intended to write a musical is open to debate as there is no record of any attempts to write a musical during this period in archive; famously his first musical was the West End flop Jeeves in 1975. Alan was, however, unanimously agreed to be asked to be appointed the Director Of Productions for 1970, which he agreed to.
But it proved to be another challenging year and at the 1970 AGM, it was announced the company had made a loss of £1,330 that year and the minutes recorded the note: "Artistically the season has been excellent, I think we have never before had such a strong and competent company of actors. However, the choice of plays did not make the season a success from a box office point of view."
The company from the 1970 summer season notably including
Bob Peck (front left), Stephenie Turner (top, second from left) &
Elisabeth Sladen (top, second from right).
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan had been unanimously agreed to be offered the Director Of Productions role in 1970 and whilst all evidence points to the fact Alan would have been offered the job again, it's open to speculation whether - after two loss-making seasons - he was seen as the man to turn things round.
But that decision was about to be taken out of the Trust's hands. Having been censured for running over-budget by £900 for hiring two extra actors that season, resulting in a vote by the Trust that the Artistic Director must not go over-budget, it was announced Alan - not present at the AGM - would not be available to run the theatre in 1971.
It later transpired his unavailability was due to his first Broadway transfer and he would be accompanying How The Other Half Loves on its North American debut tour and transfer to New York.
With Alan away from Scarborough for at least a year, the Library Theatre had to find a new Director Of Productions for 1971 with no guarentee of Alan's involvement in the season.
Would Broadway and the West End tempt Alan away from Scarborough for good?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

By Jeeves To Be Revived By Alan Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn will be returning to the popular and award-winning musical By Jeeves this autumn.
He will be directing a revival of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere.
Alan last directed the play 16 years ago on Broadway and is looking forward to revisiting the piece he has directed more times than any other of his creations.
"By Jeeves is a party. It's a celebration of theatre, so is perfect for the Old Laundry's 25th. I was always attracted by the innocence in Wodehouse and love the simplicity and characters, which I still find so refreshing."
The Old Laundry was founded in 1992 by Alan Ayckbourn's close collaborator, the designer Roger Glossop, who also worked on the original production of By Jeeves. This production will see them reuniting alongside the original choreographer Sheila Carter.
The Old Laundry Theatre's Directors, Roger and his theatre producer wife Charlotte Scott said: "We are really delighted to be putting on this revival of By Jeeves to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn. The original show, which re-opened the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1996, transferred to the West End and moved across the waters to Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Broadway was such a fulfilling theatrical enterprise for all the creative team, cast and crew that the idea we can re-visit this piece, with its wit, pace and beautiful songs and present a large scale production at the Old Laundry Theatre (10 in the cast + a six-piece live band) is a fitting celebration for our 25th."
The production will also feature musical direction by Steven Elis, costumes by Caroline Hughes and Lighting by Jason Taylor. It will make the first major production of the play since a revised version of the musical was performed at the Landor Theatre, London, in 2011.
By Jeeves is a musical by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber based on P.G. Wodehouse's Wooster novels, which opened in 1996 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. It follows the mis-adventures of Bertie Wooster and his man-servant Jeeves as they try and navigate a fraught tale of mistaken identities and mis-matched lovers resulting in confusion, mayhem and fun.
By Jeeves won the TMA Regional Theatre Award for Best Musical and transferred from Scarborough to the West End in 1996 before embarking on a UK tour. It was later revived on Broadway in 2001 at the Helen Hayes Theatre having also been adapted for television earlier the same year.
By Jeeves will run at the Old Laundry Theatre from 6 October to 4 November with booking opening in the spring. Further details about the production and bookings are expected to be announced soon.
If you would like to learn more about the history of By Jeeves, you can find out more at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Alan Ayckbourn At The British Library

Tickets are now on sale for Eighty Plays On at the British Library where Alan Ayckbourn will be discussing his career as a playwright.
Copyright: Andrew Higgins
The event, organised in conjunction with the Royal Society For Literature, is taking place on Monday 22 May at 7pm in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library.
Alan Ayckbourn will be in conversation with Peter Kemp, Chief Fiction Reviewer for the Sunday Times, and will be discussing Alan Ayckbourn's long writing career, his themes as well as his influences, working practises and his constant desire to push the technical envelope in his plays.
Alan Ayckbourn has been writing professionally since 1959 and 2017 will see the premiere of his 81st play, A Brief History of Women. During his almost six decades of writing, he has been responsible for such classic and acclaimed plays as Relatively Speaking, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, A Chorus Of Disapproval, Woman In Mind, A Small Family Business, Things We Do For Love, Comic Potential, House & Garden and Private Fears In Public Places.
Tickets are now on sale to the public and priced at £12 with concessions available. Further details and bookings can be made via the British Library website by clicking here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

News & Listings: 20 February 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
21 - 25 February: Roundelay at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre (produced by Dick & Lottie)
22 - 25 February: Henceforward... at the Cambridge Arts Theatre (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn's new play was announced last week by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. A Brief History of Women is set over 60 years and follows an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who has loved, left and lost him over the decades all within a remarkable manor house which has seen and heard all these stories. It can be seen from 1 September - 7 October at the SJT, is directed by Alan Ayckbourn and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan will also be reviving his classic 1979 farce Taking Steps at the SJT this summer. The play can be seen from 13 July to 5 October and further details can also be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> ALan Ayckbourn will be celebrating his 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in September with two evenings called A Brief History of Plays. Each evening will look at 30 years of his career featuring reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of the plays by members of his current and previous acting companies. The events take place on 11 and 17 September and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Chichester Festival Theatre has announced a major revival of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, one of his most popular and acclaimed works. The three plays can be seen between 18 September and 28 October and will be directed by Blanche McIntyre. Further details can be found at www.cft.org.uk.
> Alan Ayckbourn's 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is also being celebrated as part of the eight-day Inner Circle event at the SJT in Scarborough. The week will be book-ended by the A Brief History Of Plays events and will also include a chance to see A Brief History of Women and Taking Steps as well as joining Alan Ayckbourn for dinner (subject to availability). The week offers a behind the scenes look at the SJT, offering a chance to join the theatre during tech week for a new play and to meet the people who bring the plays to the stage. Further details can be found at the SJT website here.
> If you missed Dick & Lottie's production of Roundelay at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in January, there's another chance with the production touring to the New Wimbledon Studio theatre from 21 - 25 February. Further details about the production and the only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays can be found here.
> There is a new regular feature on the blog in which, every Friday, we mark the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre in Scarborough with a year-by-year feature.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.