Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Family Plays

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: Soho Theatre is currently presenting the London premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's family play The Boy Who Fell Into A Book, what are the family plays?

Answer: The family plays are full length plays by Alan Ayckbourn and considered part of the official 76 play canon, but which are written for a family audience.
They are different to the plays which Alan has specifically written for children, which are not considered part of the full-length play canon, as they are intended to be enjoyed by adults and young people alike.
Alan Ayckbourn's first family play was Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (1988) and was written for several reasons. Firstly, Alan had noted an increasing amount of young people visiting and enjoying his 'adult' plays and he wondered whether he could succesfully write something aimed slightly more at the younger generation, but which would be equally appreciated by an adult audience.
He also felt, at the time, very few people were taking theatre for young people seriously and that many plays and productions aimed for the lowest common denominator and underestimated, even patronised, young people. He believed then - and still passionately believes - that children are a sophisticated audience and you can deal with most of the same themes as in his 'adult' work, but it just has to be written in a way to hold their interest. He also believes as much as possible should be done to encourage young people to visit the theatre, hopefully encouraging an enthusiasm for live performance.
As of 2012, Alan Ayckbourn has written 12 family plays and these are: Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays, Invisible Friends, This Is Where We Came In, Callisto 5 (later revised as Callisto#7), My Very Own Story, The Musical Jigsaw Play, The Champion Of Paribanou, The Boy Who Fell Into A Book, Whenever, The Jollies, My Sister Sadie and Miss Yesterday.
You can find out more about the family plays in the Plays section of Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website.

Alan has also written a number of short plays specifically for either young people to perform (Gizmo & Ernie's Incredible Illucinations) as well as several plays specifically for the youngest theatre audiences from pre-school to the age of eight (The Princess And The Mouse, The Ten Magic Bridges, Miranda's Magic Mirror, The Girl Who Lost Her Voice).

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Directing in America

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: With the announcement that Alan Ayckbourn will direct Sugar Daddies at the ACT in Seattle in 2013, I wondered how many plays Alan Ayckbourn has specifically directed in North America - as opposed to tours or transfers from the UK.

Answer: Although productions of Alan Ayckbourn's plays have been taking place in North America since 1970 and Alan's own productions have also toured to the USA, there are only four plays he has specifically directed for North American venues.

The first was in February 1982 when Alan Ayckbourn toured his Scarborough company to the Alley Theatre in Houston. The company performed two plays, the first was Way Upstream and this was a transfer of the Scarborough production which had opened the previous October. Of interest here is that he also directed the same company whilst in Houston in a production of Absent Friends. This was directed specifically for the Alley Theatre and was performed nowhere else.

The Alley Theatre was also host to Alan's second specific production when in 1987 he directed Henceforward... at the venue. The play had premiered in Scarborough in July and less than three months later, he opened an entirely new production of the play in Houston. The cast featured George Segal and Judy Geeson and was again only seen at the Alley Theatre.

The third play was By Jeeves - although this had a convoluted production history. After the play's premiere at Scarborough in 1996 and following its London premiere, Alan was invited by the Goodspeed Opera House to direct an American premerie at the Norma Terris Theater, Chester, Connecticut, in 1996. This featured John Scherer as Bertie Wooster and, initially, Malcolm Sinclair reprising his Scarborough role as Jeeves. This production became the basis for several further productions of the play, directed by Alan in various venues (and for television), until it opened in Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theater in 2001.

The final play - as of writing - will be Sugar Daddies, which Alan will specifically direct for the ACT in Seattle in 2013, with the play expected to run during September / October. This will also mark the professional North American premiere of the play, which was first produced in Scarborough in 2003.

Of course, Alan has transferred productions from the UK to the USA and directed them in the USA (such as Bedroom Farce (1979), Way Upstream (1982), Communicating Doors (1994), Private Fears In Public Places (2005), Intimate Exchanges (2007), My Wonderful Day (2009), Neighbourhood Watch (2011)), but the four plays discussed above remain the only ones to have been specially produced by Alan for American venues.

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Most Prolific London Actor

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: Who is the most prolific actor in West End productions of Alan Ayckbourn's plays?

Michael Gambon &
Felicity Kendal in
The Norman Conquests
© Stephen Moreton Prichard
Answer: Michael Gambon. The award-winning and acclaimed actor is easily the most prolific performer of Alan Ayckbourn's plays in London having appeared in eight plays.

His first West End Ayckbourn experience was the enormously successful The Norman Conquests trilogy (Table Manners, Living Together, Round And Round The Garden), which initially opened at Greenwich Theatre in 1974 before transferring to the Globe Theatre.

In 1977, he played the role of Neil in the London premiere of Just Between Ourselves before appearing at the National Theatre as Patrick in Sisterly Feelings in 1980.

In 1985, he played Dafydd ap Llewellyn in A Chorus Of Disapproval at the National Theatre, which won him the Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance.

In 1987, having joined Alan Ayckbourn's company at the National Theatre the previous year, he appeared in the world premiere production of A Small Family Business as Jack McCracken.

Michael Gambon in
Man Of The Moment
© John Haynes
Finally - as of 2012 - in 1990 he won his second Olivier Award in an Ayckbourn play (as well as a Critics Circle Award) when he played Douglas Beechey in Man Of The Moment at the Globe Theatre.

Gambon was also directed by Alan in two other plays whilst at the National Theatre, appearing in Will Evans & Valentine's Tons Of Money and Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, for which he won a third Olivier Award under Alan's direction.

As a final note, the actor also appeared in a repertory season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1990 appearing in Alan Ayckbourn's productions of Taking Steps and Othello.

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