Question: Having recently seen the West End production of Absent Friends, how many of Alan Ayckbourn's plays are set in real time and which play has the longest time-span of his plays?
Answer: Absent Friends, written in 1974, was Alan Ayckbourn's first full-length play set in real time (where a minute of stage time equals a minute of real time). Since then he has written only one other full-length play in real time, Haunting Julia. If performed as intended, Haunting Julia is the epitome of the real time play as it is intended to be performed without an interval (unlike Absent Friends, which does have a scripted interval).
As for the play which has the longest time-span for the characters, this would currently be Joking Apart, which is set over a period of 12 years. Although this will be superseded this summer by the premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's new play Surprises which covers a period of fifty years for the characters.
As for general time-span (in which time does not affect the characters), this would have to be Whenever, which by virtue of a time machine sees the characters venture from Victorian times to the end of time and back again within the course of the play!