Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The first major review

Today marks an unusual anniversary for Alan Ayckbourn as a playwright.
For on the 15 August 1959, Alan Ayckbourn received his first review from a major publication when The Stage wrote about his first play The Square Cat.
It's frequently overlooked that The Stage was paying attention to the playwright so early in his career and is particularly interesting in light of the fact that archival records suggest only it and the Scarborough Evening News reviewed Alan's first steps as a professional playwright.
To put this into perspective, aside from The Stage reviewing Standing Room Only in 1960, the next major (i.e. non regional) review of an Ayckbourn play - and apparently the first from a broadsheet - was not published until his 6th play in 1963 when Benedict Nightingale reviewed Mr Whatnot for The Guardian.
Did The Stage spot a burgeoning talent at the Library Theatre in Scarborough? You can make your own mind up with the review below.

Big Beat In The Round
Twenty-year old Alan Ayckbourn puts the big beat into Studio Theatre's new production, The Square Cat at Scarborough's Library Theatre, in more ways than one. He wrote it, has the leading part and learned to play guitar for his part as a rock 'n' roll idol chased by a married woman. He gives his best performance of the season in this lively, and extremely amusing off-beat foot tapping comedy. While rock still tops the pops London might well be interested in this bright little play from the provinces.
Comedy centres on the situation which arises when rock star Jerry Wattis is invited to a borrowed mansion for a clandestine dance with a married woman, and her husband and son discover the plan. Mr. Ayckbourn plays a little guitar during sequences, and dances a rock number called "The Riddle" with Dona Martyn, whose acting is first class. The pair are well backed up by William Elmhirst's rather aged laughter-raising schoolboy, David Campton's middle-aged husband, and Faynia Jeffery as the daughter.
As if to disprove the theory, The Square Cat fits into theatre in the round the way Mr. Ayckbourn intended it to do - smoothly and well.
(Copyright: The Stage)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Shortest West End run

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 recently read Absurd Person Singular had the longest West End run of any Ayckbourn play. Which play had the shortest run?

Answer: Most people familiar with Alan Ayckbourn's plays would probably presume the answer to this was Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber's flop musical Jeeves - but it's actually not.

Jeeves opened at Her Majesty's Theatre on 22 April 1975 and received one of the worst critical maulings to have ever been levelled at an Ayckbourn play. It subsequently closed on 24 May 1975. The combination of a big budget, star cast and headline creative talents was enough to make it infamous as one of the West End's most famous flop shows.

However, the shortest West End run of an Ayckbourn play is actually held by his first London transfer, Mr Whatnot. In 1964, the producer Peter Bridge decided to bring the show to the West End following its successful world premiere at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.

Mr Whatnot opened at the New Arts Theatre on the 6 August 1964 and was met with some reviews as vitriolic as anything Jeeves would later receive. It subsequently closed on 22 August 1964, running approximately half the time Jeeves did.

Of course, whilst Jeeves had no future until it was extensively revised by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1996, Mr Whatnot has - unaltered - had a very long and successful life in both professional and amateur circles. Which goes to show that success - or lack of - in the West End for a play isn't the be all and end all.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Ayckbourn Premieres

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: A two-pronged question this week about some Ayckbourn facts which are frequently inaccurately reported: I've read conflicting reports about the number of his own plays Alan Ayckbourn has premiered in Scarborough and also how many he has directed the world premieres of, can you tell me the correct numbers.

Answer: With regard to how many of Alan Ayckbourn's full-length plays have premiered in Scarborough, the answer - as of 2012 - stands at 72 of the 76 plays.

Only four of his plays have not received their premiere in Scarborough and these are Christmas V Mastermind and Mr Whatnot (which both premiered at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent), Jeeves (which premiered at the Bristol Hippodrome) and A Small Family Business (which premiered at the National Theatre, London). The other 72 plays all had their first performance in Scarborough at either the Library Theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round or the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

As to how many of his plays has Alan directed the world premieres of, this currently stands at 69 of his 76 plays.

There are only seven of his own plays he did not direct the world premiere of and these are his first play The Square Cat (1959), Love After All (1959), Dad's Tale (1960), Standing Room Only (1961), Christmas V Mastermind (1962), Relatively Speaking - originally titled Meet My Father (1965) and Jeeves (1975).

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