Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Absurd Title

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd.
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: ayckbourn@gmail.com (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: I understand the title of Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular was originally intended for an entirely different play. Do we know anything about that play?

Answer: The title of Absurd Person Singular has always been an intriguing one as it's one of the most well-known of his plays. For many years, Alan did not mention the title was not designed specifically for the play and this led to much discussion about its meaning in context to the actual play. Alan apparently has received some very clever and interesting interpretations of the title - when essentially it was nothing but a stock title that would cover a multitude of possibilities given that at the time, the title of his plays would be announced far in advance of them being written.

As for where the title originates, there's no definitive answer although I suspect there was not so much an earlier play which wasn't written as a concept or an idea for a play which didn't come to fruition and Alan applied the title to the play that did. Alan himself has never clarified this. The first indication the play title was not specifically intended for the final play was given by Alan just five years after he wrote it in his preface to Three Plays, published in 1977.

Absurd Person Singular - the title was originally intended for a play I didn't write and subsequently, because I rather cared for it, given to the play I did write.”

At face value, this suggests when it came to writing his play for the 1972 summer season at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, he had an idea for a play which would have had the title Absurd Person Singular, but this came to nothing so he wrote an alternative play which used the same title.

The likelihood is though that the original 'unwritten' play (or idea) also bore no resemblance to the title either as we also know that had thought of the title in advance of writing anything. As revealed in talks given by the playwright in 2008 and 2010, the title was something that randomly occurred to him.

“We were in a lift up to [the producer] Michael Codron’s office and I suddenly said ‘Absurd Person Singular. That’s a good title.’ I hadn’t got a play!”

Sadly, we have no idea when Alan had his epiphany as he had known Michael Codron since the early 1960s, although it's probable the lift incident came in late 1971 / early 1972 when Michael handled his first production of an Ayckbourn play with Me Times Me (Family Circles) and was in more regular contact with Alan. This would, hypothetically, tie in nicely as within that time period Alan's next play would have been for summer 1972, which became Absurd Person Singular.

But in reality, all we really know is Alan thought of a title in advance of working on a play and decided to use it for a play, which he then didn't write (and which may have got no further than an initial concept) before reusing it on the play he did write.

You can find out more about the history of Absurd Person Singular at Alan Ayckbourn's website by clicking here.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: ayckbourn@gmail.com labelled Ask The Archivist.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ask The Archivist: BBC Radio Adaptations

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd.
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: ayckbourn@gmail.com (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: Following yesterday's article about Henceforward... on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday, how many of Alan Ayckbourn's plays has BBC Radio broadcast?

Answer: Probably more than you think! BBC Radio has consistently been recording and broadcasting Alan Ayckbourn's plays since the early mid-1970s. Here's a list of all the BBC Radio productions in chronological order.

Relatively Speaking (1975)
Absent Friends (1977)
Absurd Person Singular (1977)
Confusions (1979)
Just Between Ourselves (1984)
Confusions (1985)
Season's Greetings (1985)
Intimate Exchanges (1987)
Confusions (1985)
Joking Apart (1990)
The Norman Conquests (1990)
Man Of The Moment (1992)
By Jeeves (1996)
Way Upstream (1997)
Things We Do For Love (1998 tbc)
Season's Greetings (1999)
Woman In Mind (2000)
Whenever (2006)
A Small Family Business (2009)
Man Of The Moment (2009)
Henceforward... (2012)

Of these broadcasts, only two are currently available to buy. These are Season's Greetings and The Norman Conquests, which are available on CD via Amazon or as downloads via iTunes or Amazon.

Further details about all these productions and Alan Ayckbourn's plays in other media can be found on the Films, TV & Radio section of his official website.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: ayckbourn@gmail.com labelled Ask The Archivist.