Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013's 10 Best Ayckbourn Moments

2013 proved to be a busy year for Alan Ayckbourn - he alone premiered three new plays and directed six new productions!
To mark the year's end, here is my own personal list of best and notable Ayckbourn moments during the past 12 months. I'm sure you'll have your own too.

1) Alan Ayckbourn and Bedroom Farce featuring so prominently in the National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebrations. Congratulations to Penelope Wilton and Nicholas le Provost for demonstrating there's still a place for pilchards in bed!
2) The critically acclaimed West End revival of Relatively Speaking marking the 45th anniversary of its original West End production.
3) Alan Ayckbourn's 76th play Surprises being nominated for the UK Theatre Awards Best New Play.  The play may have divided audiences, but it is always nice to see Alan recognised for his writing.
4) The west coast directional debut of Alan with the north American premiere of Sugar Daddies at the ACT, Seattle - with, according to all reports, an outstanding ensemble cast.
5) His new play Arrivals & Departures at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, gaining a five star review from Libby Purves in The Times (and whose excellent blog TheatreCat can be found here) and demonstrably proving Alan Ayckbourn continues to experiment with form with startling results 77 plays on.
6) Haunting Julia - finally - being released for amateur performance (if only Samuel French would now publish it as an acting edition!). Hint of bias here as Haunting Julia is one of this writer's favourite plays...
7) The publication by Bloomsbury of Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur by Paul Elsam; the first major book to be published about the life and work of Alan Ayckbourn's most significant mentor - and in which there are notable contributions from Alan.
8) The well received and highly ambitious Ayckbourn season at the Eclipse Theatre in Chicago.
9) Neighbourhood Watch being published by Samuel French (and, subsequently, the reduction in emails to www.alanayckbourn.net asking when it would be published!)
And a purely personal one...
10) Having my book Unseen Ayckbourn feature in The Stage's best theatre books of 2013 - oh, and completely relaunching www.alanayckbourn.net in July complete with new look. Thanks for all the support and kind words about it!

Happy New Year to all supporters of this blog and the website. May 2014 be a prosperous year for you all!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unseen Ayckbourn recommended by The Stage

The Stage has listed the book Unseen Ayckbourn amongst its pick of theatre books of the year.
Unseen Ayckbourn, by Alan Ayckbourn's archivist Simon Murgatroyd, is highlighted in the newspapers' 'best books and CDs of the year' and notes:
"Self-published Unseen Ayckbourn was a fascinating examination of the playwright's rarely seen, withdrawn, lost and (occasionally) altered plays by official archivist Simon Murgatroyd."
The book (which is available from Lulu publishing here) draws on Simon Murgatroyd's years of experience as the playwright's archivist exploring Ayckbourn rarities over more than 55 years.
From his school day writing to his earliest existing play, The Season, to unwritten plays such as Sight Unseen to the present day with unused concepts for Surprises, Unseen Ayckbourn explores a wealth of material relating to withdrawn, unpublished, lost and never seen plays and ideas for plays.
It also includes exclusive extracts from many of the withdrawn plays as well as extensive quotes from Alan Ayckbourn himself about the plays. The book also includes an exclusive conversation with the playwright about his early writing career and a behind the scenes look at the musical Jeeves.
Unseen Ayckbourn is available now and can be ordered online by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

10 Facts: Things We Do For Love

To mark yesterday's announcement of the Theatre Royal Bath's major revival of Things We Do For Love in 2014, here's 10 facts about the play.

The poster for the London
premiere of Things We Do For
Love in 1998.
> Things We Do For Love is Alan Ayckbourn's 51st full length play.
> The world premiere was held at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 29 April 1997.
> The London premiere was held at the Gielgud Theatre on 3 March 1998; it would transfer to the Duchess Theatre on 26 August 1998.
> Things We Do For Love was only the fourth play Alan Ayckbourn wrote specifically for end-stage performance and the first Ayckbourn play to be performed in the end-stage at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (the end-stage question is slightly complex, see note at foot of the page).
> The motivation for writing an end-stage play was partly derived from a funding crisis which hit the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the months after the new venue had opened in 1996. Facing calls to cut costs and to close The McCarthy auditorium, Alan Ayckbourn instead wrote a play specifically for the end-stage space.
> One of the play's inspirations was a from the movie In The Line Of Fire in which Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo passionately strip each other, but it is shot entirely from floor level so we see only the characters' feet and their clothes falling to the floor. Things We Do For Love similarly features a sex scene in which we can only see the feet of the protagonists and the foot of the bed they end up in.
> Alan Ayckbourn won the Lloyds Private Banking Playwright of the Year for Things We Do For Love. He was the first and last recipient of the award which closed in the months following the initial award.
> The play was adapted for the radio by the BBC and directed by Gordon House, a veteran adaptor of Alan Ayckbourn's plays for the radio. It featured Joanna van Gyseghem, Teresa Gallagher and Cameron Stewart reprising their roles from the original Scarborough production.
> It is the first Ayckbourn play to feature the 'F' word.
> Things We Do For Love has the distinction of being the Ayckbourn play whose title is incorrectly reported the most frequently. It is constantly referred to as The Things We Do For Love rather than just Things We Do For Love.

Things We Do For Love opens at the Theatre Royal Bath from 16 - 26 April, 2014, before going on tour; details of which will be announced soon.

* The number of plays Alan Ayckbourn considers he has written for the end-stage can be a confusing one as he has written plays originally produced in the end-stage which he does not consider end-stage and also plays originally produced in the round, which he considers are end-stage!
Alan considers the following plays as his end-stage plays: Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, Haunting Julia, Things We Do For Love and Virtual Reality. All these plays were conceived in the playwright's mind as end-stage productions and generally work best there. However, both Bedroom Farce and Haunting Julia were originally produced three-sided and have been successfully produced in the round. Arguably, they work best in the end-stage for which they were originally conceived though.
Just to complicate matters, the world premieres of Jeeves and House (from House & Garden) took place in the end-stage, but Alan does not consider them end-stage plays as he did not conceive them specifically for end-stage performance, that just happened to be the staging they were first produced in.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy 50th Anniversary Doctor Who!

Updated 23 November: See end of blog for actual on the day link between Alan Ayckbourn & Doctor Who!!!

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of the British television institution Doctor Who.
Sadly there is no direct link to Alan Ayckbourn - although he has written several time-travelling plays including Whenever which included a box which travelled through time....
However, the blog is going to indulgently link two of my passions (Alan Ayckbourn and Doctor Who, obviously) for one day only with a - admittedly - tenuous tour through the various incarnations of the Doctor and their even more tenuous links to Alan Ayckbourn.
So for a bit of fun, let's celebrate the life (so far) of the greatest time-traveller the universe has ever seen!

©BBC
The First Doctor (William Hartnall)
Verity Lambert, the famed original producer of Doctor Who and the BBC's first female drama producer, was responsible for producing the popular 1977 television adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests. This was also notable because it was the first time six hours of the primetime evening television schedule had ever been given over to a living playwright.
Also the very first episode of Doctor Who - An Unearthly Child - was directed by a young director named Waris Hussein. In 2000, Waris Hussein directed an acclaimed audio adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's play Just Between Ourselves for LA Theatre Works featuring Alfred Molina as Dennis.
Although many actors who have worked in Doctor Who have also worked with Alan Ayckbourn, Martin Jarvis probably has the earliest Doctor Who connection. Martin - who has worked with Alan in the West End and at his home theatre in Scarborough - played Hilio in The Web Planet opposite the first Doctor and would go on to appear in Invasion Of The Dinosaurs with the third Doctor and Vengeance On Varos with the sixth Doctor.

David Troughton in
Season's Greetings.
©Catherine Ashmore
The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)
One of several very tenuous connections (!) to Alan Ayckbourn, but Patrick Troughton's son, David Troughton, will be known to many Ayckbourn fans for playing the role of Tom in the acclaimed 1977 television adaptation of The Norman Conquests - which was produced by Verity Lambert and also featured Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton, who would both go on to appear in Doctor Who. David has appeared in Doctor Who in Midnight, The Enemy of the World, The War Games and The Monster of Peladon (thanks to Paul Morris for suggesting the latter three serials).
David also played Harvey in the National Theatre's acclaimed 2010 revival of Season's Greetings - which also featured Doctor Who alumni Mark Gatiss and Catherine Tate.

Elisabeth Sladen
in How The Other
Half Loves
©STT*
The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)
The intrepid reporter Sarah Jane Smith is one of the most popular of the Doctor's companions - so popular she returned to the revived series for several adventures with the tenth Doctor as well as receiving her own spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Sarah Jane Smith was played by the late Elisabeth Sladen, who was part of Scarborough Library Theatre company in 1969 and 1970 and appeared in two Ayckbourn world premieres: How The Other Half Loves (1969) and The Story So Far... (later retitled Family Circles) in 1970. In How The Other Half Loves, she created the role of Fiona Foster.

Tom Baker in
Hay Fever

©STT*
The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)
Not quite a direct link to Alan Ayckbourn - but a notable one for the theatre he is most associated with. In 1968, Tom Baker joined the company for the summer season at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, where Alan Ayckbourn made his writing and directing debuts and of which he would become the Artistic Director in 1972. Sadly, it is one of the few years since 1959 in which Alan Ayckbourn did not premiere or direct one of his plays but Baker appeared in several plays including Hay Fever and Arden Of Feversham; entirely coincidentally, this was the year before Elisabeth Sladen joined the company and who - as Sarah Jane Smith - is the companion most associated with Tom Baker's Doctor.

Laura Doddington
(Improbable Fiction
poster ©STT*)
The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)
Although not as widely known as the television series, there has been a prolific amount of official Doctor Who audio adventures featuring the 'classic' Doctors (Doctors 1 - 8) over the years. In 2009, a series of three stories featuring the fifth Doctor (performed by Peter Davison) were released under the title Key 2 Time. Within them, Laura Doddington played Zara, one of two twins created in human form to find the Key to Time. She went on to star in a spin-off series of audio adventures about the character called Graceless.
Laura is a very prolific Ayckbourn actress who has worked with his Scarborough company a number of times including the world premieres of Miss Yesterday, Improbable Fiction, Life Of Riley and Surprises.

Louise Jameson &
Colin Baker in
Bedroom Farce

©to be confirmed
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)
In 2003, following issues with the West End production of Damsels In Distress in the West End, Alan Ayckbourn put a temporary moratorium on all West End and major touring productions of his plays. Between 2003 and 2007, only the Stephen Joseph Theatre was touring Alan's plays. This altered in 2007 when veteran Ayckbourn actor and acclaimed director Robin Herford produced the first major UK tour since 2002 with Bedroom Farce.
This well-received production of the classic play featured the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, as Ernest with Louise Jameson (who played the fourth Doctor's companion Leela) as his wife Delia. Colin has previously appeared in several other Ayckbourn plays and once said 'Alan Ayckbourn is a genius' - so we like him!

Sheila Hancock in
Absurd Person
Singular
©to be confirmed
The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)
One of the most memorable villains of the Sylvester McCoy era was Sheila Hancock's portrayal of Helen A in The Happiness Patrol; now regarded as a thinly veiled allegory of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Sheila Hancock was notably in the original West End production of Absurd Person Singular in 1973 as Marion Brewster-Wright; Absurd Person Singular still stands as the longest running single production of an Ayckbourn play in the West End.
The quintessential Ayckbourn actor Richard Briers also appeared opposite the seventh Doctor in The Happiness Patrol. Richard appeared in the West End premieres of Absurd Person Singular and Absent Friends.

The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)
A bit of a difficult and tenuous one here as Paul McGann has only appeared twice as the Doctor on screen (the TV movie and a mini episode for the 50th anniversary). He has been one of the most prolific Doctors though thanks to a range of official audio adventures, some of which have featured actors who have worked with and been directed by Alan Ayckbourn such as Samantha Bond, Nigel Havers, Julia McKenzie, Steven Pacey and Rupert Vansittart.

Robert Shearman
with friend...
©BBC
The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)
When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, one of the most acclaimed and popular episodes was Dalek. This episode memorably re-introduced the Doctor's oldest and most popular foes, the Daleks.
The Hugo award nominated episode was written by Robert Shearman, an award winning author and playwright, who has had a number of plays premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough; two of which - Fool To Yourself & Knights In Plastic Armour were directed by Alan Ayckbourn.

Penelope Wilton in
The Norman
Conquests ©Stephen
Moreton Prichard
The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)
During the tenure of the ninth and tenth Doctors, the Scarborough-born actress Penelope Wilton played the recurring role of Harriet Jones (MP, then Prime Minister, then former Prime Minister and Dalek victim).
Penelope Wilton has numerous connections with Alan Ayckbourn; she was directed by him in the National Theatre's production of Sisterly Feelings, played Ruth in the London premiere of The Norman Conquests at the Greenwich Theatre and played Annie in the television adaptation of the trilogy.
Most recently, she appeared in a scene from Bedroom Farce alongside Nicholas le Provost as part of the National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebration production.

Michael Gambon in
Man of the Moment
©John Haynes
The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)
Two Christmas episode connections here as the stars of each of Matt Smith's first two Doctor Who Christmas specials have connections with Alan Ayckbourn.
In A Christmas Carol, Michael Gambon played the protagonist Kazran Sardick. Gambon is one of the most famous actors to be associated with Alan Ayckbourn and has appeared in more West End / National Theatre productions of Alan's plays than any other actor. He memorably played Tom in the original London production of The Norman Conquests and won Olivier Awards for his performances in A Chorus Of Disapproval and Man Of The Moment.
The following year, Claire Skinner played Madge Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe. Claire has worked with Alan Ayckbourn on several occasions and appeared in the world premiere production of The Revengers' Comedies and the London premiere of Invisible Friends at the National Theatre.

Apologies to the many, many actors who have worked with Alan Ayckbourn over the years and who have appeared in both classic and new Doctor Who adventures. There's an awful lot of them and too many to mention here!

Happy 50th anniversary to Doctor Who!

Update 23 November: And this Archivist's day has been very much made. As part of the Doctor Who 50th celebrations, a mock-documentary The Five Doctors(ish) Reboot was screened. And in a scene at the end, Doctor Who producer Russell T Davies makes an appearance with a poster for Alan Ayckbourn's Taking Steps very prominently displayed behind him! Two worlds collide at last!
Copyright: BBC
* ©STT indicates copyright of Scarborough Theatre Trust / the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
The Doctor Who logo, banner, 50th anniversary design and screen-grab are copyright of the BBC.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Unseen Ayckbourn

This week's edition of The Stage (21 November) features an interview with Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist about the book Unseen Ayckbourn.
Simon Murgatroyd, interviewed by Nick Smurthwaite, discusses the recently published book as well as his work on Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website www.alanayckbourn.net.
Unseen Ayckbourn is Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website first major publication. It is a 178 page book, written by Alan Ayckbourn's archivist Simon Murgatroyd, looking at the playwright's unpublished, withdrawn and unwritten plays.
It offers a new perspective on Alan Ayckbourn's phenomenal career in theatre by exploring the plays which have rarely been seen, withdrawn, lost or - occasionally - altered. It draws from unused or abandoned concepts and ideas as well as looking at variations of existing plays, alternative titles as well as other ephemera from the playwright's five and a half decades of writing.
The book includes extracts from some of the works as well as extensive quotes by the playwright himself. Much of the material is exclusive to the book.
It also contains an exclusive interview with Alan Ayckbourn about his early writing as well as a fascinating behind the scenes look at the musical Jeeves from the perspective of material held in the Ayckbourn Archive.
Extensively updated and expanded from the 2009 publication Sight Unseen, it also contains a complete list of Alan Ayckbourn's plays and writing as of 2013.
Unseen Ayckbourn is available in softcover format from Lulu Books at £7.50 plus postage and packaging (click here) or can be ordered as a PDF document for £5 via paypal. For details of how to order the PDF, please email admin@alanayckbourn.net.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confusions to be published as ebook

One of Alan Ayckbourn's most popular plays, Confusions, will be available in digital format from December.
Bloomsbury Methuen will be publishing its student edition of Confusions on 4 December 2013 for Kindle as well as in EPUB and PDF formats.
Confusions, first performed in 1974, has long been one of Alan Ayckbourn's most studied plays; it was the first Ayckboun text to be included in the UK's National Curriculum. Recent statistics also showed it is one of the most performed Ayckbourn plays of all time.
The ebook includes the complete play text as well as commentary and notes by Russell Whiteley; this popular edition of the play has never been out of print since it was first published.
Confusions (student edition) is available for pre-order from Amazon at £6.64 by clicking here. It is also available from Bloomsburys for £9.99 in EPUB or PDF formats by clicking here.
Confusions (student edition) is also available in softcover from Amazon priced at £6.99 by clicking here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur published

A major new book looking at the significance of Stephen  Joseph, the single most influential person in Alan Ayckbourn's life, has been published.
Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur is written by Dr Paul Elsam and published by Bloomsbury Books, exploring in depth the significance and impact of this hugely influential, but also largely forgotten figure of British theatre during the 1950s and 1960s.
His significance was noted in a 1967 obituary in The Times which labelled Stephen Joseph ‘the most successful missionary to work in the English theatre since the second world war’. This radical man brought theatre-in-the-round to Britain, provoked Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter and verbatim theatre creator Peter Cheeseman to write and direct, and democratised theatregoing.
This book - which includes a foreword by Alan Ayckbourn - investigates his forgotten legacy and draws on largely unsorted archival material (including letters from Harold Pinter, J. B. Priestley, Peggy Ramsay and others), and on new interviews with figures including Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Griffiths and Sir Ben Kingsley, to demonstrate how the impact on theatre in Britain of manager, director and ‘missionary’ Stephen Joseph has been far greater than is currently acknowledged within traditional theatre history narratives.
It offers a detailed assessment of Joseph’s work and ideas during his lifetime, and summarises his broadly-unrecognised posthumous legacy within contemporary theatre. Throughout the book Paul Elsam identifies Joseph’s work and ideas, and illustrates and analyses how others have responded to them.
For anyone interested in the man who inspired Alan Ayckbourn to both write and direct and whose in-the-round theatre Alan Ayckbourn would later become the Artistic Director, this is an essential read.
Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur is available on Kindle here, as a general ebook (PDF) here and in hardback academic edition here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy 50th Birthday Mr Whatnot!

Alan Ayckbourn's first play to transfer to the West End celebrates its 50th anniversary today!
On 12 November 1963, Mr Whatnot opened at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. It was Alan Ayckbourn's fifth full-length play and unlike anything he had written before or has written since.
The main character, Mint (or Mr Whatnot), is a mute, anarchic, piano-tuner and his adventures as he tries to woo the debutante girl of his dreams are surreal and often bizarre.
The play, which features an enormous and technically challenging sound plot of more than 300 effects (considerably easier to achieve today than on the technology available in 1963!), was a great success in its original production and was optioned for the West End by the producer Peter Bridge.
Unfortunately, the simplicity and charm of the original production was lost in its West End production, which was brutally received by the critics and the play closed two weeks after opening.
However, it went in to find success in other productions around the world and became particularly popular with schools. Earlier this year, the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, revived the play to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Mr Whatnot is also notable as the first time Alan Ayckbourn directed a world premiere of one of his own plays.
Happy birthday Mr Whatnot!
Peter King as Mr Whatnot and Elizabeth Bell in the original
1963 production of Mr Whatnot.
Copyright: Studio Theatre Ltd.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ask The Archivist: Directing The World 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: admin@alanayckbourn.net (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: Yesterday's article noted Clifford Williams had directed the world premiere of two of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, how many other people have directed world premieres of his work?

Answer: Alan Ayckbourn has written 77 (soon to be 78!) plays, of which he has directed the world premieres of 70 of them. He first directed the world premiere of one of his own plays with Mr Whatnot in 1963 at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent.
From that point with only two exceptions (see below), he directed the world premiere of all his plays. Of the remaining plays, here are the people who directed their world premieres:

Stephen Joseph: The Square Cat (1959), Standing Room Only (1961); Relatively Speaking (1965 - originally titled Meet My Father)
Clifford Williams: Love After All (1959); Dad's Tale (1960)
Peter Cheeseman: Christmas V Mastermind (1962)
Eric Thompson: Jeeves (1975)

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: admin@alanayckbourn.net  labelled Ask The Archivist.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ayckbourn Moments: Love After All pt.2

Apologies for visitors looking for the next part of the Replaying Ayckbourn series. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the next instalment in the series will be delayed by a couple of weeks; we will be taking a look at Alan Ayckbourn's third play Dad's Tale soon.

In the meantime, we have a second archival image from the Alan Ayckbourn's second play Love After All.
This image shows the original company (as opposed to the revival six months later which featured Alan Ayckbourn in the company) alongside the director Clifford Williams (centre of photo).
Clifford Williams is a fine example of the sort of talent Stephen Joseph attracted to his still young Scarborough company at the Library Theatre (it had only been founded in 1955 with Alan Ayckbourn joining in 1957). Williams worked with the company from 1956 to 1962 and directed the world premieres of Alan Ayckbourn's second and third plays, Love After All and Dad's Tale.
However, it was in his later career that Clifford Williams made his name - particularly as a director for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also worked with the National Theatre, in the West End, on Broadway and with Joan Littlewood's famed Theatre Workshop.
The Daily Telegraph described him as 'the RSC's best delineator of the company's house style.’ Williams died in 2005.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
With thanks to Paul Elsam, author of Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer & Provocateur for research for today's blog.

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Theatre: 50 Years On Stage

Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce is one of the many plays highlighted tomorrow in the live television screening of National Theatre: 50 Years On Stage.
This special production celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre drawing on plays and actors who have been part of the National Theatre over the past five decades.
Bedroom Farce was the first Ayckbourn play to be performed at the National Theatre when it opened in 1977 and the venue has staged 10 Ayckbourn plays since 1977.
It is part of a once-in-a-lifetime production which will bring together some of theatre's greatest stars for the celebration including Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Gambon and Benedict Cumberbatch among many others.
The National Theatre first opened its doors in 1963 at the Old Vic, under Laurence Olivier. Now, 800 productions later, a cast of 100 will perform live some of the most memorable, ground-breaking, controversial and best-loved scenes from a number of these plays including Hamlet, The History Boys, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Jerry Springer the Opera, Guys and Dolls and War Horse.
The event will also combine rare glimpses from the archive alongside the live scenes directed by the outing Artistic Director Sir Nicholas Hytner.
The National Theatre: 50 Years On Stage can be seen on BBC2 at 9pm on Saturday 2 November.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

National Theatre At 50: Bedroom Farce

Continuing our celebration of the National Theatre's 50th anniversary and Alan Ayckbourn's work at the venue.

Bedroom Farce was the first Ayckbourn play to be produced at the National Theatre - and also marked Alan's directorial debut in London.
The play opened in the Lyttelton (end-stage) auditorium at the National Theatre in 1977 and although it was commissioned by Peter Hall for the National, it was first produced at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1975.
Reviews for the play were excellent - marred slightly by a number of prominent critics arguing Ayckbourn plays were too commercial for the National and should remain in the West End - and the play was a huge early hit for the National Theatre.
Its success saw it not only performed for an extended period at the National Theatre, but the production also transferred into the West End, had a UK tour, transferred to Broadway and was also adapted for television in a production featuring most of the original National company.
It began a long and successful relationship between the National Theatre and Alan Ayckbourn.
Below are reprinted four of the posters used by the National Theatre for Bedroom Farce during its original run and its subsequent transfer to the West End.
Copyright: National Theatre
To find out more about the history of Bedroom Farce, visit Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here. For more information about the National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebrations, click here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ayckbourn Moments: Love After All

Ayckbourn Moments is now part of the Replaying Ayckbourn feature and offers a look at a rare image connected with the play currently being discussed.

Love After All (1959)
Not one but two images this week offering a look at the only two productions of Alan Ayckbourn's second play Love After All.
Alan wrote Love After All in 1959 as an Edwardian period farce loosely based on The Barber Of Seville. It was performed in December 1959 at the Library Theatre and proved to be a great success; albeit without Alan playing the lead role as intended due to being called up for National Service.
A decision was made to revive it in the summer of 1960 at the Library Theatre but with a new director, who appears to have not been overly impressed by the play. He decided to set it in the present day and changed a number of elements. Although Alan was now available to play the lead role, he has said in retrospect, it was not as good a production as the original.
The photos offers a comparison of the same scene from both productions in which the hero, Jim Jones, disguised as a Doctor diagnoses the miser Scrimes as being terminally ill.
The photo on the left from 1959 sees Barry Boys (left) as Jim Jones 'administering' to David Campton's Scrimes. The right photo from 1960 has Alan Ayckbourn (left) as Jones with David Campton reprising his role as Scrimes, but in modern dress.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust (left) / Alan Ayckbourn (right)
It is worth noting that as only a single manuscript exists for the original production and there is very little other surviving archival material, the photographs of both productions (but especially the second in 1960) are invaluable in offering some insight into the plays and how they were performed.

The Replaying Ayckbourn: Love After All article can be found here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

National Theatre at 50: Alan Ayckbourn's First Letter

The National Theatre is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Alan Ayckbourn's own connection with the National Theatre is a significant part of his theatrical career and between 1986 and 1988, he was a company director with the venue.
The National Theatre has also staged ten Ayckbourn plays since 1977 when Bedroom Farce opened in the Cottesloe, proving to be an early hit for the venue and which the National Theatre toured to Broadway and transferred into the West End.
Over the next two weeks, the blog will be highlighting several interesting items from the Archive pertaining to Alan Ayckbourn's relationship with the National Theatre as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.
We begin with the first archived correspondence between Alan Ayckbourn and the National Theatre sent by Peter Hall, then Artistic Director of the National Theatre, to Alan on 29 August 1973; four years before Alan would first work for the theatre.
The letter shows Peter Hall's reaction to the West End production of Absurd Person Singular and how he would like Alan to work with the National Theatre.
According to the Peter Hall Diaries (Oberon Books, 2000), Peter Hall saw Absurd Person Singular on 28 August 1973 and was impressed by the play. In his diaries, he noted:
"Saw Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular. It is a hard, beautifully constructed play. But because it is commercial, it tends to be unregarded. I think Ayckbourn is much more likely to be in the repertoire of the National Theatre in fifty years' time than most of the Royal Court dramatists."
This letter, alongside a wealth of other correspondence between Peter Hall and the National Theatre, is held in the Ayckbourn Archive in the Borthwick Institute at the University of York.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Replaying Ayckbourn: Love After All

2014 marks both Alan Ayckbourn’s 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his first West End transfer with Mr Whatnot. In a new feature leading up to and through the anniversary year, Replaying Ayckbourn will look back over his entire play canon examining each play and digging up some of the more unusual facts about them. Accompanying features for each play will also be published.

Love After All
Play: 2
World premiere: 21 December 1959
Venue: Library Theatre, Scarborough
Published: No - held in archive (unavailable for production)
Find out more: http://loveafterall.alanayckbourn.net

Short Synopsis
An elderly miser, Scrimes, plans to marry of his daughter Angelica to a pig-breeding bore of an aristocrat, Rupert Hodge. A passing stranger, Jim Jones, sees Angelica at her window and falls in love with her whilst Angelica's clever maid, Minta, falls for him.
Jones, donning a variety of increasingly bizarre disguises - including a portrait artist, doctor and Scrimes' female American cousin - attempts to see gain entry to the house to propose to Angelica; all the while Minta telling him he's pursuing the wrong girl.
In a bid to rid himself of Jones, Scrimes comes up with a plan for Hodge to disguise himself and abduct Angelica; Minta informs Jones of the plan and engineers Hodge's successful abduction of Angelica, whilst she waits in disguise to entrap Jones for herself. With everyone in disguise and confusion abounding, Scrimes gives several dowries to Jones instead of Hodge. Jones and Minta run off together with the money, whilst Hodge and Angelica flee a pistol-wielding Scrimes to also begin a new life together.

Did you know?
> This is the Ayckbourn play about which least is known. Only one original manuscript exists (despite there being two different versions of the play), very few reviews exist and Alan Ayckbourn has said very little about the play.
> The only manuscript for Love After All was discovered by Alan’s archivist Simon Murgatroyd and the British Library in the Lord Chamberlain’s Collection (held at the British Library) in 2007. It is a clean, pre-production script and thus there is no indication of how representative it is of the actual produced play.
> It is, arguably (and I’d argue very strongly for this!), this most conventional play written by Alan Ayckbourn. It is a period farce which satisfies but does not push the conventions of the genre.
> Although apparently based on The Barber Of Seville; it seems this was only in the loosest use of the term.
> Alan has suggested it was an easier play to write than The Square Cat as he stole the plot; he has never explained why he stole the plot though. This could be because he was only commissioned to write it no earlier than 9 September 1959 (the end of the summer season) for rehearsals beginning no later than 9 December 1959 - less than three months!
> It is attributed to Roland Allen (a pseudonym combining of the names of Alan and his wife, Christine Roland); quite why a pseudonym is used is unclear given the programme - free to all audience members - makes it clear the author Roland Allen is actually the actor Alan Ayckbourn.
> Love After All is - even more so than The Square Cat - centred largely on providing a showcase for the leading actor (who plays four different characters). Ironically, Alan wrote it to showcase his own abilities, but was then not able to perform in the original production due to being called for National Service.
> It is Alan’s first multi-location set as it contains both a ground floor living room and a second floor bedroom on the same stage.
> Alan has frequently talked about how he and the company’s other resident playwright, David Campton, wrote each other the worst roles possible (culminating in David writing Alan a role for a one-eyed, one armed, one legged barman). Possibly it all began here with Alan casting David as an 83 year old miser (David being 35 at the time).
> It is possibly (and I stand to be corrected) the only Ayckbourn play where a character gives an aside to the audience (breaking the in-the-round equivalent of the fourth wall) where the convention hasn’t been established as part of the narrative (i.e. the narrators / lead characters in certain family plays such as Invisible Friends and Miss Yesterday).
> There is also an astonishing example of monologuing by Minta purely to provide exposition and, presumably, to just make it clear to the audience a character was in disguise; it's doubly unusual given Alan so rarely writers monologues in his plays.
> Notable dialogue: “I have always ridiculed the doctor who sat and listened to his patient’s chest as if it were a gramophone. If a gramophone goes wrong, one does not sit listening to it. On the contrary, one opens it up - dear sir - opens it up and has a good look inside.”
> Like The Square Cat before it, the play was so popular with audiences that a decision was made to run it for a second week.
> For the summer of 1960, the play was revived but the new director Julian Herington decided he did not like it and updated it to a contemporary setting. As a script for this production hasn't survived, we have no idea how substantially it was altered.
> While Alan joked in the 1970s he was trying to destroy all copies of his early plays, the fact that only one Love After All manuscript is known to exist (and in a place where Alan could not destroy it!), whereas there are multiple copies of his other early plays, does suggest he really did try to destroy Love After All!

Look out for our accompanying Ayckbourn Moments photograph on this blog on Friday.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

National Theatre's 50th Anniversary

The National Theatre is 50 years old today and over the coming weeks will be celebrating this anniversary.
Alan Ayckbourn's work and productions at the National Theatre will be included as part of the celebrations with his play Bedroom Farce named as one of the 50 seminal productions produced during the venue's first half century.
The play features in the new free app for iPads, 50 Years Of The National Theatre, which contains an extensive selection of often exclusive content relating to the history of the National Theatre and 50 productions which are regarded as particularly significant.
The Bedroom Farce selection includes production and behind-the-scenes photos, many of which have rarely - if ever - been seen in public before drawn from the National Theatre's extensive archives.
It also includes production details about the play, an introduction as well as design material such as the set plan; for anyone who is interested in the history of Bedroom Farce, it is a fascinating collection of material and in sight into one of the National Theatre's most successful early productions.
Although only available on iPad, this free app comes highly recommended and further details can be found here.

The 50th anniversary will also be celebrated and explored in a major two-part documentary screening on BBC4 and BBC iPlayer over the next two weeks.
Arena: The National Theatre tells the story of the National from the appointment of Laurence Olivier as its first Director, and the great period of legendary productions at the Old Vic, to the move to the controversial and now iconic new building on the South Bank.
Alan Ayckbourn is one of the many people interviewed for the documentary; talking about his experiences at the National Theatre since 1977 and which has included ten productions of his work.
Arena: The National Theatre starts on Thursday 24 October at 9pm on BBC4 with the second part screening on Thursday 31 October at 9pm. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer and further details can be found here.

Last, but certainly not least, the major celebration of the National Theatre's 50th anniversary takes place on Saturday 2 November with a live broadcast of 50 Years On Stage.
BBC2 will be broadcasting this celebration from the National Theatre which draws together many of 100 celebrated actors who have worked at the venue, recreating some of iconic scenes and moments from significant works produced over the past five decades - including a scene from Bedroom Farce with Penelope Wilton as Delia.
This promises to be an extraordinary theatre event and further details about it - including broadcast times when announced - can be found at the National Theatre website here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: Comedy & Farce

In the run-up to Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in April 2014, a monthly feature reproduces articles by the playwright highlighting his life in theatre through the years.
Last month we looked at Alan Ayckbourn's views on the repertory company - something which has always been an essential element of his work in Scarborough.
This month, we reproduce an article first published in the Amateur Stage in 1978 - for which Alan wrote several articles during the late '7-s - in which he explores the difference between comedy and farce and how they should be approached from an acting perspective.

On Comedy & Farce
Going back to my great idol, Buster Keaton - everything followed logically; he behaved completely within his own mad world as a normal human being would behave. The mistake that's made is that people imagine that somehow farce has to be played louder, faster, broader - and suddenly they throw all credibility away. I have a campaign at the moment for slow, quiet farce. I don't see why farce has necessarily to be loud or fast. It has to be paced well, but that does not necessarily mean all loud or all fast.

The middle act of Absurd Person Singular is sometimes a trap, but one should bear in mind that all the characters are in their own terms acting totally logically. Leave it to us, the audience, to laugh, if we see the funny side; and leave it to the dramatist, if he's done his job properly, to point the absurdity. The actors don't need to react; they can continue to play their own role within that scene... there's still a woman trying to kill herself, which she is still quite serious about, and there's still a man trying to unblock a sink. What turns an audience off, I think, is when actors are in effect saying "Aren't I funny?"

Farce playing is not as mysterious as it's sometimes made out to be. It's difficult, but there's a sort of mystique about farce, which makes everyone very nervous about it. Some of the best performances I've had in farce and comedy are from actors who've never played it before.

I had a girl who came into the company to play Evelyn in Absent Friends; on the first night she delivered the lines as she had been doing in rehearsals and the audience just fell about. So I popped round in the interval because I thought she'd be really thrilled about this as it was her first job with us, and she said, "I can't stop them laughing. I'm sorry." I said, "Don't worry - that's just what we want." "Is it?" she replied. She had no idea. Maybe I hadn't explained it, but I had been talking about it as a character - I hadn't thought to talk about the laughter. Three nights into the run I went to see it again - and she was practically standing on her head to let laughs. I said, "You don't need to do any more - you've already got the laughs."

This was the most clear example of how to play comedy - be real; and she had instinctive timing on how to play the lines for real. There was someone with very little experience playing comedy beautifully, and taking it a little further, why not farce the same way?

A lot of my plays start quite low key, and I slowly "jack them up"' into quite high-key stuff. The Normans has a sort of climax in the middle, where it becomes quite broad - though it should still be played as comedy, not farce. Of course one can have big moments, but you must have explored the truth in order to reach them. What often happens with an actor who is not naturally an expert farceur is that he has seen somebody playing farce and then tries to copy the externals. He forgets that the great farce players have a sort of inner logic and truth about them that makes them, for the time you are watching, totally believable. So many actors go wrong in trying to play farce because of certain "distractions".
For example, Ralph Lynn had very large hands and a very comic personality, and he did things truthfully from his own viewpoint, but which any other actor copying would be phoney. But he uses his own particular physical peculiarities to create laughter. People following him think he got laughs by doing "funny things" - but in fact he got laughs by doing things his way.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Replaying Ayckbourn: The Square Cat Interview

Following on from the launch of Replaying Ayckbourn last week, today takes a final look at Alan Ayckbourn's first play The Square Cat.
Here the playwright talks about The Square Cat to his archivist Simon Murgatroyd, looking at how and why he came to write it and the impact of the play.

The Square Cat: Alan Ayckbourn Interview

Simon Murgatroyd: The Square Cat was your first professional commission, why do you think Stephen Joseph took that risk on you?
Alan Ayckbourn: I think one of the reasons Stephen Joseph first asked me to write was I let slip early on that I’d written at school. In fact, I’d written my first play before the age of 12 and it was an adaptation of an Anthony Buckeridge book Jennings At School; which I wrote and never got to see because I was ill. I wrote sketches and little bits and pieces once I was at Haileybury, my public school, where the arts scene was covert and undercover and which was all very exciting; like being in the French resistance!

Alan Ayckbourn in The Square Cat
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The story famously goes that the commission came as a direct result of you complaining about the quality of your acting roles in 1958, is this true?
Yes, I was overheard to complain about the play I was in one night [David Campton's Ring Of Roses], the way actors do. I didn’t have a very good part in it and Stephen Joseph threw down the gauntlet: “If you think you can write a better play, do so.” I said, “I can write better than this - I can write a play tomorrow that’s better than this.” And he said, “OK, do so smarty. There’s just one thing, if you write it, be prepared to play the lead in it.” Which he actually thought would queer my pitch as obviously I’m not going to be lunatic enough or suicidal enough to write myself an unplayable role in a play I didn’t have any confidence in!
But I was so swollen with confidence and possibly a slight stupidity of youth, that I wrote a play in which I gave myself this starring role.

Not just a starring role though. An all-singing and all-dancing role. Which seems slightly strange - possibly suicidal - given you were neither singer nor dancer!
The freedom to write my own play was amazing and the actor in me was urging the author in me onward and onward! So the role was a rock ‘n’ roll singer playing a guitar, singing and dancing; it was an amazing role - Michael Crawford would have died for it! But I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance and I certainly couldn’t play the guitar!
So it occurred to me in the first two or three weeks of rehearsals that I ought to remedy this quite quickly and I went for some guitar lessons. I didn’t even have a guitar and this boy looked at me in amazement and said, “how long have you got?” I said: “Well, about two weeks.” He said, “You can’t play the guitar in two weeks! I can teach you a couple of chords.” I said, “Yeah, OK, that’ll do. So can we find a song to go with a couple of chords?” and he said: “Well, there’s a very boring song with two chords in it!” which I finished up playing in this play of mine.

The Square Cat is a rarity for you because it is a pure farce. Why did you decide to write a farce for your first play?
The Square Cat was a farce because that was how it turned out. Everyone tells you; don’t write farces, they’re for old men. Farces are technically very, very difficult to write unless you’re a natural farceur - you have to know exactly all the wheels and nuts of play-building. Long before that, you’re supposed to write a very serious play about how your mother didn’t understand you and how your father was unkind to you; write something rather introverted and gloomy and all about you - which is what 80% of all first plays written are. First plays tend to come soaring out of a person’s unhappy childhood - if they had a happy childhood, they invent an unhappy one.
But I started with a silly play about a woman who fell in love with a pop singer and he arranges to go on holiday with her, to her family’s horror, who then turn up and try to stop her. The rest of the play is about pop singers running in and out of doors.

How was the play received by audiences at the Library Theatre?
Because The Square Cat was light and had a few laughs in it, it made money because we were still doing - in those days - plays largely written by young people who were writing about their “unhappy childhoods” and this was a silly play about no childhood at all. The audience, who were on holiday in Scarborough trying to avoid the rain, ran in gratefully and saw my play, which made the theatre money. It made me more money in one lump than I’d ever earned in my life! £33*, it was a fantastic amount! I went completely berserk and bought myself some more records!
Stephen Joseph realised he’d actually, like some freak accident of lightning striking, found himself an embryonic commercial writer and he encouraged me to write more. I, wanting to see more £33s coming in because by then I had a family and one child with another on the way, started to write comedies for Stephen and the first three or four all included exciting parts for me! And then as they went on I began to realise that possibly the one weak link in the plays was this bloke playing all the leads. So I recast them for another actor - to the eternal gratitude of the rest of the company, who were fed up with supporting me.

*Alan Ayckbourn has generally quoted a figure of £47 earned from The Square Cat previously.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce any part of this interview without permission of the copyright holder.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ayckbourn 2014 Tour Announced

Dates for the 2014 tour of Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed new play Arrivals & Departures have been announced.
In 2014, a triple bill of Ayckbourn plays will be touring the UK following a successful run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer.
His new play Arrivals & Departures, which has received critical acclaim, will be touring alongside the playwright's lauded revival of his classic 1992 play Time Of My Life and the world premiere production of his two new one act plays Farcicals.
The tour begins at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on 22 January before visiting the Oxford Playhouse; Warwick Arts Centre; Cambridge Arts Theatre; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham; Theatre Royal, Bath; Watford Palace Theatre.
All the plays, which are currently on a short in-the-round tour to the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windemere, are directed by Alan Ayckbourn.
Arrivals & Departures is Alan Ayckbourn's 77th play and revolves around a young female soldier, Ez, and an older traffic warden, Barry, brought together in unusual circumstances, whose lives are revealed through their memories.
Time Of My Life was premiered in 1992 and is the first revival by Alan Ayckbourn since he directed the West End premiere in 1993. It follows a pivotal night in the life of the Stratton family intertwined with events leading to and from the event.
Farcicals consists of two inter-related one act plays, Chloë With Love and The Kidderminster Affair, which are Alan's first forays into pure farce since he wrote Taking Steps in 1979.
Further details of the tour can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

Arrivals & Departures, Time Of My Life and Farcicals Tour 2014
22 January - 1 February: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
3 - 8 February: Oxford Playhouse
10 - 15 February: Warwick Arts Centre
17 - 22 February: Cambridge Arts Theatre
24 February - 1 March: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
3 - 8 March: Theatre Royal, Bath
10 - 15 March: Watford Palace Theatre

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ayckbourn Moments: The Square Cat

Ayckbourn Moments is now part of the Replaying Ayckbourn feature and offers a look at a rare image connected with the play currently being discussed.

The Square Cat (1959)
This image is a rare image of the The Square Cat's author Roland Allen. The play was actually written under a pseudonym which acknowledged it was a joint collaboration between Alan Ayckbourn and his fiancee - later first wife - Christine Roland.
Apparently Christine contributed substantially to the structure of the play, whilst Alan concentrated in the dialogue and plot. Alan and Christine had first met whilst both were actors in the Studio Theatre company based at the Library Theatre, Scarborough.
This is a rare publicity image of the two of them together, out of character - as opposed to images from productions they were both in - and probably the only publicity photograph of 'Roland Allen'.
Alan Ayckbourn & Christine Roland (1959)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Do not reproduce without permission
The Replaying Ayckbourn: The Square Cat article can be found here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Replaying Ayckbourn: The Square Cat

2014 marks both Alan Ayckbourn’s 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his first West End transfer with Mr Whatnot. In a new feature leading up to and through the anniversary year, Replaying Ayckbourn will look back over his entire play canon examining each play and digging up some of the more unusual facts about them. Accompanying features for each play will also be published.

The Square Cat
Play: 1
World premiere: 31 July 1959
Venue: Library Theatre, Scarborough
Published: No - held in archive (unavailable for production)
Find out more: http://thesquarecat.alanayckbourn.net

Short Synopsis
A married woman, Alice, goes on a clandestine trip to a county house to meet and dance with the rock idol Jerry Wattis. Unknown to her, her husband Sidney finds about about the trip and bring their son and daughter to the house too. Jerry is also not who he seems but the extrovert alter-ego of mild-mannered Arthur Brummage, looking to escape the celebrity lifestyle. Over a weekend, Sidney tries to humiliate Arthur, whilst Arthur falls in love with the daughter Susan, all the while pretending to be 'Jerry' for Alice. Eventually 'Jerry' deliberately upsets Alice who is reconciled with Sidney and Arthur becomes engaged to Susan, without Alice having any clue as to what has happened.

Did you know?
> Alan Ayckbourn wrote The Square Cat when he was just 19 years old. It was written whilst on the Studio Theatre Company 1959 winter tour, which included Harold Pinter’s self-directed second production of The Birthday Party (which featured Alan as Stanley).
> Alan had written approximately a dozen plays before The Square Cat, most of which are now lost. By all accounts though, none of these were full length and none were farces. It was entirely new territory for the budding playwright.
> In a letter dated 19 March 1959, the Library Theatre’s manager Rodney Wood discusses the coming season with Scarborough Library and no mention is made of The Square Cat; it must have been a very late addition to the season.
> The Square Cat was co-written with his fiancee Christine Roland - they married later that year in May 1959. As a result, it was credited to Roland Allen - although the first print of the production’s programme mis-spelt Allen as Allan.
> Someone heads off for a clandestine meeting at a country-house, not knowing their partner has decided to follow them but who arrives first.... Sound familiar? It’s the set-up for both Relatively Speaking and The Square Cat.
> Alan says he wrote the main part of a rock ‘n’ roll star for himself, despite knowing he couldn’t sing, dance or play the guitar. The original manuscript acknowledges this by ending the first act: “Wattis gives a triumphant twang on his guitar.” Unfortunately, someone - either writer or director - decided to be more ambitious as a handwritten next to it reads “breaks into a number”, despite the fact Alan only knew the chords for the song I Gave My Love A Cherry.
> The X Factor / The Voice / American Idol are not new, when the ‘Prince Regent Of Rock’ Jerry Wattis is asked how he got his lucky break, he responds: “I won a talent competition.”
> Jerry’s mild-mannered alter-ego Arthur Brummage was brought up in a “dull seaside town” - a sly dig at Scarborough?
> Memorable quote: “If people carried on like they do in songs, the delinquency rates would get out of hand.”
> Product placement is obviously not a recent trend either as Jerry is constantly refering to Zingo - “The sparkling health drink with the tasty stimulant” which “will fill you up with new hep - zing - and off you go.” Hep apparently being a variant or earlier version of the word ‘hip.’ Jerry Wattis constantly spouts trendy Americanisms.
> Sidney Glover - the protagonist Alice's husband - is definitely the prototype ‘Ayckbourn Man’; a husband who obsesses on DIY - and explains in detail the difference between water and gas pipes - and who is clueless as to how he treats his wife. He is almost a proto-Denis from Just Between Ourselves.
> The Square Cat was the first play at the Library Theatre to run for two consecutive weeks.
> According to financial accounts for the 1959 summer season, The Square Cat had a total attendance of 3,340 people. It was the second highest attended show of the year behind John van Druten’s Bell, Book & Candle with 3,349 people attending.
> The play made £695, 8 shillings and 6 pence as compared to £696, 2 shillings and 6 pence for Bell, Book & Candle.
> Alan estimates he earnt £47 from The Square Cat - the most money he had ever earned in his life!
> The Square Cat was revived for the Studio Theatre Company’s 1960 winter tour with Barry Boys playing the role of Jerry Wattis due to Alan being called for a short-lived (3 days) National Service. It was never performed in its entirety again.
> During the 1970s and 1980s, Alan insisted he had destroyed all copies of the play. However, original manuscripts are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York, the John Rylands Library at the University Of Manchester and the Lord Chamberlain’s Collection at the British Library.

Pendon-isms
Pendon is the fictional town which appears in many of Alan Ayckbourn's play.
> While The Square Cat does not specifically identify where it is set - it mentions “just outside London” and “Surrey” - it sounds potentially like a fore-runner to Alan’s renowned fictional town of Pendon. Although this will not appear until Relatively Speaking in 1965, it is predominantly located (occasionally the town moves) in the London commuter belt, near Reading, in a similar vicinity.

Look out for our accompanying Ayckbourn Moments photograph on this blog on Friday.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sugar Daddies in Seattle

Alan Ayckbourn makes his west coast directorial debut tonight with the 10th anniversary revival of Sugar Daddies at ACT.
This is the playwright's first collaboration with ACT - although the company has produced a number of Ayckbourn plays in the past - and this production also marks the north American premiere of Sugar Daddies.
Emily Chisholm in Sugar Daddies.
Copyright:  LaRae Lobdell
Sugar Daddies is a “comedy of dark intentions” about a naïve student who rescues an old man dressed as Father Christmas from a hit-and-run driver and brings him back to the London flat she shares with her sister. He showers her with generosity and they embark on a dangerously Faustian game of fantasy. The cast of characters play roles in which no one is quite who they seem and no good deed goes entirely unpunished.
The company features Anne Allgood, Emily Chisholm, Sean G. Griffin, Elinor Gunn and John Patrick Lowrie. It is directed by Alan Ayckbourn with designs by Matthew Smucker, costumes by Deb Trout, sound by Brendan Patrick Hogan and fight direction by Geof Alm. Gin Hammond is the dialect coach.
Previews begin tonight for Sugar Daddies with the official opening on 10 October. The play runs until 10 November at the Allen Arena Theatre, 700 Union Street, Downtown Seattle. Performances are Tuesday to Sunday.
Tickets are available by calling (206) 292-7676 or by visiting www.acttheatre.org, where further details of the production can also be found.

*An interview with Alan Ayckbourn about the ACT's production of Sugar Daddies can be found at Crosscut by clicking here.

*To learn more about Sugar Daddies, visit Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK.
To mark the event, which began in 1994, the blog today reproduces one of Alan Ayckbourn's favourite poems.
The playwright has frequently noted in interviews that one of his favourite poems is by A.A. Milne and taken from The House At Pooh Corner - and originally recited by Winnie the Pooh.

The more it
SNOWS-tiddely-pom,
The more it
GOES-tiddely-pom
The more it
GOES-tiddely-pom
On
Snowing

And nobody
KNOWS-tiddely-pom,
How cold my
TOES-tiddely-pom
How cold my
TOES-tiddely-pom
Are
Growing.

A.A. Milne

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Celebrating Alan Ayckbourn

2014 is a significant year for Alan Ayckbourn. It will mark both his 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his first West End production, Mr Whatnot.
Given two such significant anniversaries, the blog - in conjunction with Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website - will be marking them with an extensive project over the next two years looking at all of Alan Ayckbourn's plays.
Alan Ayckbourn
Copyright: Andrew Higgins
Approximately every two weeks, a new column Re-Playing Ayckbourn will look at every one of Alan Ayckbourn's full-length plays, re-reading them and exploring them in the light of what came before and what came after them.
There will also be a special Ayckbourn Moments blog for each play with a rarely seen photo related to the play offering an insight into a moment of its life. Articles and features from Alan Ayckbourn's official Website will also feature in the blog.
We'd also like to hear from you, if you want to contribute to the discussion of the plays, we'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on the plays. The best of the comments will be saved for posterity and may even find a permanent place at www.alanayckbourn.net in the future.
This will mark the single biggest project the Alan Ayckbourn Blog has undertaken and we hope you'll support and enjoy it as we lead into 2014 and beyond (and let's not forget 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the world premiere of Relatively Speaking as well as the 60th anniversary of the Stephen Joseph Theatre).
We'll also be covering any major productions and events being arranged to tie in with the Ayckbourn anniversaries such as the Celebrating Ayckbourn page on Samuel French's website.
The blog and Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website also wants to hear from any companies (professional and amateur) planning productions or events during the anniversary year (email: admin@alanayckbourn.net).
Re-Playing Ayckbourn will launch next week. Join the celebrations with the blog and Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Surprises nominated for Best New Play

The UK Theatre Awards 2013 have just been announced with a nomination for Alan Ayckbourn's plays Surprises.
The play, which premiered last year, has been nominated in the Best New Play category and is up against Mike Bartlett's Bull and Tom Wells's Jumpers For Goalposts.
Surprises is Alan Ayckbourn's 76th play and revolves around three intertwined love stories set in the near future.
The world premiere production was directed by Alan Ayckbourn and starred Ayesha Antoine, Bill Champion, Laura Doddington, Sarah Parks, Ben Porter and Richard Stacey. The play was originally co-produced by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Chichester Festival Theatre in 2012 before going on a UK tour in 2013.
The UK Theatre Awards - which is organised by the Theatrical Management Association - will take place on October 20 at London’s Guildhall. Watch this space for the result.
Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website sends out congratulations to the company and everyone involved in the production for the nomination.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: The Repertory Company

In the run-up to Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in April 2014, a monthly feature reproduces articles by the playwright highlighting his life in theatre through the years.
Last month we looked at Alan Ayckbourn on the cusp of becoming the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre in Scarborough (now the Stephen Joseph Theatre) and maintaining Stephen Joseph's legacy.
We now move forward four years to the final year at the Library Theatre, where Alan had been Artistic Director for four years. Here he talks about one of the often over-looked but essential facets of his time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre: the repertory company. Particularly during the '70s and '80s, there was practically a permanent repertory company in Scarborough which Alan nurtured and felt was important to the identity of the theatre.

One of the more unusual and also the happiest aspects of this theatre has been the comparative stability of the company. Speaking as a playwright this has proved invaluable. The problems and often the agonies of producing a new play are considerably reduced when a nucleus of the cast is already, to some degree, in tune and sympathetic. It would be churlish, if not downright ungrateful then, if I did not acknowledge the debt I owe to actors like, for instance, Chris Godwin. To date, he has produced sufficient stamina to appear in no less than ten of my plays (some of them twice). It's an actor/author relationship which is, I suspect, unequalled in contemporary theatre, certainly in this country and has been made possible only because of the existence of the company itself. (For the record, second in the 'league table' is Stanley Page, seen here last summer in Bedroom Farce and Confusions, who has been in nine plays. Then Heather Stoney with eight and Janet Dale with seven).
Of course, the point is really that we have managed, in this most uncertain and unstable of professions, to achieve surprising continuity. Whilst I'm not a believer that companies should remain so static that they risk stagnation, a set-up such as ours depends entirely on its shared identity. Its star persona, if you like, is generated by the sum of its individual talents. It's an identity that ideally alters gradually as new elements are added and others lost but if all goes well it should still have enough personality for a regular audience to relate to and recognise. Having worked in both star theatre and company theatre I make no pretence as to where my preferences lie. It's our ambition as a company to prove the point.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn (1976). Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Four Plays. One Season.

Alan Ayckbourn's final new play of the year opens tomorrow at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, offering the chance to see four Ayckbourn plays in one season.
Chloë With Love is the second of the Farcicals alongside The Kidderminster Affair; two inter-related one act farces which can be seen separately or together.
The Farcicals mark a rare excursion both into pure farce for Alan Ayckbourn - he considers he has only written one true farce previously with Taking Steps - and one act plays; prior to this he has written only two one acts plays alongside the five one acts which comprise Confusions.
The two Farcicals can be seen individually at lunchtimes in the theatre's restaurant or together on evenings in the McCarthy auditorium.
The Farcicals will now be in repertory with the world premiere of Alan's highly acclaimed and popular new play Arrivals & Departures as well as his revival of his 1992 classic Time Of My Life at the venue until 5 October 2005.
All four plays will then also tour to the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme as well as the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windemere.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre has also confirmed it will be touring all four plays in 2014, although only the first venue - the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford - has been confirmed.
Further details about Farcicals and all the Ayckbourn plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this summer and the tours beyond can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Half genius, half mad-man!

Stephen Joseph & The Library Theatre, the sister site to Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website, launched in July and is already expanding with new material.
Although the blog covered the launch of www.stephen-joseph.org.uk in July, it recently received its first major press coverage. Unfortunately the article - which offers further insight into Stephen Joseph, his work and the website - has not been published online, so is presented here in a slightly revised and expanded form.

Half genius, half mad-man!
by Simon Murgatroyd

“Half-genius, half mad-man!”
This is how the playwright Alan Ayckbourn recalls Stephen Joseph; the man he considers the most significant influence in his life and a pioneer who had a profound - if often overlooked - impact on British theatre during the 1950s and 1960s.
This impact on theatre, on practitioners such as Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter and on the town of Scarborough is brought to light in a new website exploring the life and achievements of Stephen Joseph.
www.stephen-joseph.org.uk highlights a theatrical trail-blazer who introduced professional theatre-in-the-round to the UK and was a profound inspiration to many who worked with him and who followed in his footsteps.
Stephen Joseph
Copyright: Studio Theatre Ltd
Stephen Joseph was born in 1921, the son of the actress Hermione Gingold and the publisher Michael Joseph. By the early 1950s, he was determined to champion new playwriting and new theatre forms in the UK - both of which were largely ignored - as well as taking theatre to new audiences.
Having been frustrated in his attempts to promote these causes in London, he ended up in Scarborough in 1955 where, on the first floor of Scarborough’s public library, he opened the Library Theatre; home to the UK’s first professional in-the-round company and dedicated to promoting new writing a year before the launch of London’s Royal Court with a similar writing remit.
As to why he chose Scarborough of all places for the venture, in an interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post in July 1955, Stephen noted: “I don’t know, except that the town attracts a cross-section of the public during the summer and I personally like the place.”
Stephen was also a prolific writer and passionate about promoting theatre; one of the most significant sections of the website is its insight into Stephen’s thoughts by reproducing many of his articles about a variety of subjects alongside such as new theatre forms alongside other significant documents.
Stephen’s wider achievements are also explored including his influence on people as diverse as the playwright Harold Pinter, the actor Ben Kingsley and the influential Royal Shakespeare Company director Clifford Williams amongst others.
It is little known that Stephen Joseph not only encouraged Harold Pinter to continue playwriting after his first major flop, The Birthday Party, but he also gave Pinter his first professional job as a director with the second production of The Birthday Party, which rehearsed in Scarborough Library in 1958!
The cast included the young actor Alan Ayckbourn, who Stephen went on to encourage to both write and direct - thus launching a theatrical phenomenon still going strong more than five decades later - and who has become Stephen’s most prominent advocate.
Stephen Joseph & Alan
Ayckbourn in 1958
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
“He was half-genius, half mad-man! Who else could take an unknown company with unknown plays in an unknown theatre form, to a place like Scarborough, and, eventually, make a go of it?” said Alan Ayckbourn. “He was a Renaissance man, very interested in practically everything. He knew more about the art of playwriting than anyone I've met. He knew more about the art of acting than anyone I've met and he knew more about directing - although he himself wasn't very good at any of them!”
The website has been created by Alan Ayckbourn’s archivist Simon Murgatroyd and who co-curates it alongside Dr Paul Elsam, a Teesside University lecturer and expert on Stephen Joseph whose book Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur is published by Bloomsbury in October.
It also explores in considerable depth the first decade of the Library Theatre - still thriving today as the Stephen Joseph Theatre - under Stephen Joseph. This has been particularly helped by the support of Scarborough Library as the website includes reproductions of significant documents pertaining to the creation of the venue still held by the Library in its Stephen Joseph Theatre Collection.
The in-depth look at the Library Theatre also highlights the little-known fact that Stephen Joseph actually closed the venue in 1965, believing it could not overcome the limitations of the venue. Only the enthusiasm of Scarborough’s amateur community saved the theatre by staging an amateur season in 1966 before re-opening it as a professional venue in 1967, although without the involvement of Stephen Joseph, who was terminally ill by that time.
The Library Theatre and the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent - which Stephen created as the UK’s first permanent theatre-in-the-round venue - mark the most visible and long-lasting attempts by Stephen to make theatre-going more accessible; a subject the website will explore further in the future.
Even after his tragically early death in October 1967, Stephen’s impact was felt for many years afterwards - arguably most theatre-in-the-round and adaptable theatres in the UK owe a debt to Stephen’s ideas and work on design and lighting - particularly in the regions.
The website will expand in the future exploring in more depth his work on theatre design, his conflict with the British theatre establishment, his influential lecturing post at the University of Manchester as well as his role in founding the Association of British Theatre Technicians and the Society Of Theatre Designers.
The creation of www.stephen-joseph.org.uk has the support of Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn. It is run as part of Alan Ayckbourn’s official website www.alanayckbourn.net. The final words as to why Stephen Joseph deserves better recognition though belong to his protege, Alan Ayckbourn.
“Stephen was a great innovator, a great ideas man, and above all a great teacher.”

If you worked with Stephen Joseph or have memories of him, the website would be delighted to hear from you via: enquires@stephen-joseph.org.uk.