Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ayckbourn Moments: Eric Thompson

Ayckbourn Moments is a monthly feature highlighting photographs held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York illustrating significant events in Alan Ayckbourn's career.

With the website having celebrated this year's 40th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests earlier this week, the intention was to provide a suitable accompanying photograph for this month's Ayckbourn Moments.
In particular an image of Alan Ayckbourn with the trilogy's London director Eric Thompson, a pivotal figure when exploring Alan Ayckbourn's early success in the West End.
Unfortunately, photographs of Alan and Eric together are extremely rare with only two examples known to exist in the Ayckbourn Archive - the provedence of neither having been recorded.
The image below is one of these and although not related to The Norman Conquests does mark another anniversary this year, the 40th anniversary of the London premiere of Absurd Person Singular; which still stands as the single most successful West End production of an Ayckbourn play with the longest unbroken run.
Although no details are held recording the image below - sadly not even the photographer or occasion - it is related to Absurd Person Singular as the blog - with a little help! - has identified the majority of the original London company alongside Alan and Eric.
Copyright: To be confirmed
The image features (left to right): Anna Calder-Marshall (played Eva); Heather Stoney (Alan's partner, now wife); David Burke (played Geoffrey); Alan Ayckbourn; Ann Davies (Richard Brier's wife); Richard Briers (played Sidney); Bridget Turner (played Jane) and Eric Thompson (director).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Norman at 40

It's been strangely unremarked and overlooked that this year marks the 40th anniversary of one of Alan Ayckbourn's most popular and successful works.
In June and July 1973 at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, the world premiere of The Norman Conquests took place (although they weren't called The Norman Conquests then). Three plays which would become more successful than the author ever imagined.
The plays were not originally marketed as a trilogy as Alan did not want to put off summer visitors to the Library Theatre who might otherwise have baulked at the idea of having to see three plays during their week's holiday. Each play was written to stand alone as well as building on the other plays.
Alan also never expected the three plays to transfer to London (nor to have much of a future in repertory or amateur theatre) and, initially, it seemed very unlikely as no-one wanted to stage three plays, just one or two - which Alan was never going to allow.
In 1974, the plays did eventually transfer to London to Greenwich Theatre though - advertised for the first time as The Norman Conquests and as a trilogy. The titles of two of the plays had also changed and Eric Thompson - with a little help from Alan - directed one of the most notable West End ensemble casts in an Ayckbourn play.
The success of the production led to an immediate West End transfer and, essentially, the beginnings of the phenomenal success of the trilogy. It would go on to be produced by professional and amateur companies around the world, be adapted for television and radio and would, in 2009, be the first Ayckbourn play to win a Tony Award with the Broadway transfer of Matthew Warchus's exceptional 2008 revival at London's Old Vic.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the trilogy, we've found an interview with Alan Ayckbourn in the Ayckbourn Archive held at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. Although the date and interviewer are not recorded, it does offer some insight into Alan's thoughts on one of his most famous creations.

Which character in The Norman Conquests do you sympathise with the most, and why?
I think I feel sorry for all of them in different ways. They are all victims of themselves and of the people they've chosen, or indeed not chosen, to live with. Annie must come pretty high on the list.

Was there anyone in particular who you based Norman's character on?
Not really. I once said Norman was how I'd love to be, Tom was how I appeared and Reg was what I feared I'd become. They're all parts of me, male and female characters.

What made you choose the dining room, sitting room and garden as locations for your trilogy?
They were sort of logical locations. I'd just done kitchens (three of them) in Absurd Person Singular so I couldn't use them again. Living Rooms and Dining Rooms seemed ideal locations for people to assemble or pass through giving me a great freedom to move my characters about. A lot of The Norman Conquests is about getting people on and off. The garden naturally followed and gave the piece a nice contrast. Drama always has such a different feel when it's out of doors.

Would you consider writing a sequel to The Norman Conquests? 
Heavens, no. I've said all I want to say about that lot!

Why did you decide to write The Norman Conquests as three separate plays?
I wanted to explore offstage life. That is, the life of characters immediately before they come on and just after they leave the stage. I was also interested in experimenting with theatrical form. Whether in viewing the same weekend three times and making each play a complete evening in itself, I could also uncover fresh insights and altered perceptions of the characters each time someone sat down to re-see it. And whether seeing them in different orders would change their perception. As far as I know this had never been tried and although it owes a lot to the form, it's not strictly multi viewpoint theatre. I love pushing theatre to see how far it will shove.

If you could meet one of the characters from The Norman Conquests, who would it be?
Well, I'd probably cross the road if I saw any of them coming but I suppose Annie would be the most likely.

Beneath the humour of The Norman Conquests, there is a darker side. Was it your intention to write the play in this way?
I always set out, when I write a play, with some fairly serious intentions. The stronger the serious base upon which I build a play, the more I can allow my humorous side to run away a bit. I love this tension that the comic and the serious create when they run successfully side by side. It's a matter of balance: too dark becomes unbearable; too light and you are in danger of laughing at the characters which is really for a writer a terrible act of betrayal.

How difficult was it to write The Norman Conquests crosswise?
I think it all seemed fairly easy at the time. The problem was that one could never, as the writer, read the plays individually with an innocent eye. I needed several fresh pairs of eyes to read them before I was assured that they worked 'downwards' as well as crosswise.

You can find out more about The Norman Conquests at

Interview copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ask The Archivist: One Act 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: (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: Why does the website suggest Alan Ayckbourn's new one act plays (Chloë With Love and The Kidderminster Affair) are his first one acts to be 'specifically written for their own sakes'?

Answer: Alan Ayckbourn has rarely strayed into the territory of one act plays. Despite having written for more than five decades, officially he has only written four one act plays (with the proviso below). It's not a form he turns to often - and generally there's a reason why he does.

The two new one act plays (promoted as the Farcicals) represent the first time he has written one act plays that weren't commissioned as part of a wider project. So Alan Ayckbourn's first one act play, Countdown, was commissioned as just one part of Mixed Doubles, a showcase of playwrights writing about relationships. His second one act play was A Cut In The Rates, again written to fulfil a specific criteria of a short play which would form the climax of a television programme about the process of bring a play from page to stage. It was written specifically for the BBC series The English Files and would not have been written otherwise.

Chloë With Love and The Kidderminster Affair were not written because of any outside factor (other than, like most of Alan's plays, they were commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre). They are two distinct one act plays which feature the same characters, but which do not depend on seeing both to be enjoyed. Essentially, they are the first one act plays Alan Ayckbourn has written with no ulterior purpsoe (and the first one acts which have what would be considered a normal running time for one acts, as both Countdown and A Cut In The Rates run at less than 15 minutes each).

And before anyone mentions Confusions (which always come up in discussions of Alan's one act plays!) that is considered a full length play. Whilst the five one act plays within it are often performed singularly, they were intended to be performed as one complete evening of entertainment (hence the links between the first four plays and the way it ends on a dying fall highlighting the actors as individuals with A Talk In The Park). Confusions was written as a showcase for five actors and is intended, ideally, to be seen as a whole. The Farcicals can be enjoyed together (and there is the opportunity to see them either singularly or together), but were not written with the intention they needed to both seen at the same time.

Chloë With Love and The Kidderminster Affair receive their world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 30 August. They can be seen on various dates singularly at lunchtimes or together on evenings until 4 October. Visit for more details.

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Alan Ayckbourn's most significant influence in new website

The life and achievements of Alan Ayckbourn's most influential mentor come under the spotlight in a new website.
Theatre pioneer Stephen Joseph
Stephen Joseph & The Library Theatre ( explores the work of British theatre pioneer Stephen Joseph and one of his most notable creations, the Library Theatre in Scarborough.
Although his achievements are frequently over-looked, Stephen Joseph inspired major figures in British theatre such as Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter as well as introducing professional theatre-in-the-round to the UK during the 1950s and 1960s amongst many other achievements.
The website has been created by Alan Ayckbourn's archivist Simon Murgatroyd and is a sister-site to It is co-curated by Simon and Dr Paul Elsam, an expert on Stephen Joseph and author of Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur to be published by Bloomsbury in October.
“I've come to believe that if you care about theatre, then you must also care about Stephen Joseph,” said Dr Elsam. “He's our cultural big secret - virtually a missing link on the British stage. Quite simply, he brought intimacy back into theatre, and he let audiences and actors get on with what they do best.” explores who Stephen Joseph was, what he achieved, how he was regarded and who he influenced. It also includes numerous articles by him offering an insight into his views on British theatre at the time.
Dr Paul Elsam and Simon Murgatroyd
at Scarborough Library where Stephen
Joseph founded the Library Theatre.
Copyright: Dan Henley
The website also focuses on the creation of one of Stephen’s lasting legacies, the Library Theatre in Scarborough - now known as the Stephen Joseph Theatre. The website has launched to coincide with the anniversary of the venue opening on 14 July 1955.
Website administrator and co-curator Simon Murgatroyd said he was delighted to have the opportunity to offer further insight to a figure whose significance is often over-looked.
“I’m frequently asked who Stephen Joseph was and why he had such a profound impact on Alan Ayckbourn’s life. This website offers a chance to not only tell that story but also shine a light on the creation of one of his greatest legacies, the Stephen Joseph Theatre.”
Stephen Joseph’s other achievements include creating the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, supporting new playwriting (which led to the creation of a 'new writing' theatre a year before the Royal Court was founded), helping to found the Association Of British Theatre Technicians and Society Of Theatre Designers, advocating and promoting new theatre forms at a time when British theatre was dominated by the proscenium arch and inspiring a new generation of theatre professionals through his work as a lecturer at the University of Manchester.
The plaque at Scarborough Library
marking the opening of the Library
Theatre on 14 July 1955.
Copyright: Dan Henley
One of the people most influenced by Stephen is the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, who has described Stephen as a ‘renaissance man’ and as the greatest influence on his theatre career. Stephen commissioned his first plays as a professional playwright and also encouraged him to become a director. Following Stephen's death in 1967, Alan would ensure the continuation of his legacy by becoming the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre in Scarborough in 1972.
The Library Theatre - Stephen's most visible legacy today - was home to the UK’s first professional in-the-round company and dedicated to new playwriting and promoting theatre-in-the-round; both of which the Stephen Joseph Theatre continues to champion today.
The website has also worked closely with Scarborough Library, where the Library Theatre began, and which holds an extensive collection of significant material relating to the founding of the theatre. A number of historically significant documents relating to Stephen Joseph and the Library Theatre are reproduced on the website.
The website is supported by Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn and is closely linked to Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website, which is also run by Simon Murgatroyd. is free to access and will continue to expand and add new material in the future.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: Radio Days

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 thoughts on working at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, and his first West End transfer Mr Whatnot. The production was a huge flop in London and largely vilified by the critics. Hurt by the criticism and not sure of his future in theatre, Alan applied for a job as a radio drama producer for the BBC based in Leeds. He worked there between 1965 and 1970 under the hugely influential producer Alfred Bradley. Here Alan discusses some of his radio experiences.

The sixties was an exciting period for radio drama, especially regionally. And most especially that which emanated from the small BBC Leeds studio.
There was something special happening at BBC Leeds, certainly during the time I was there in 1965 - 1970, though it started a few years before I arrived and continued for sometime after I left to return to theatre.  The 'something'  was almost entirely down to one man, Alfred Bradley, who started single-handedly a revolution in largely northern-based radio dramatic writing.
In fact my own post - radio drama producer - was created specially to help to cope with the avalanche of newly submitted scripts which had accumulated as a result of Alfred's growing reputation as a nurturer and champion of new drama.
The studio's output was phenomenal.  During my first year for instance I was personally responsible for producing approximately 50 radio plays - half hours, sixty and ninety minuters for radio 2 and 4 and occasionally radio 3. Some we produced exclusively for BBC North but the majority for the main national network.
Since this was the era when Radio Drama was strong and thriving with television still in its comparative infancy, the domestic demand was considerable.  The powers that be in London and Manchester were currently pre-occupied with their new television 'toy' and radio was increasingly overlooked or ignored by many top ranking administrators. Which of course allowed us on the shop floor, as it were, considerable freedom of choice, independence and flexibility.  In later years, for instance, once I'd settled in, I took to booking a cast, largely locally based from nearby reps, to record, say, an officially commissioned Afternoon Theatre play already scheduled for transmission in a month or two's time but then retaining the team of actors and studio technicians for an additional day to record a short additional extra production, unscheduled and thus technically non-existent.  Some of our most interesting work was done this way. If the rogue piece turned out well, we would offer it up to the network and more often than not it was subsequently transmitted.  If not, it was conveniently "lost".
The advantages of working out of Leeds were various. Not only were we regional, i.e. well away from London scrutiny, we were also a sub-division of that region, thus away from the gaze of even Manchester.
Also the Leeds studio was excellent acoustically. A converted chapel it had a fine atmosphere and qualities that many more modern, state of the art studios including those newly built in Manchester, lacked. The building was also in terms of manpower, small.  Everyone knew each other and the departments were generally supportive of each other. This was also the time when tape as a recording medium finally replaced the old fashioned wax disk on which radio plays were recorded up to that time. This offered a new found flexibility to recording. We were among the first I believe to record, when necessary, out of sequence besides also doing out of studio location recording.  All the advantages of film with a fraction of the cost. Also, unlike film, tape was reusable.
I learnt a lot from those days. As a director who was previously from theatre,  I learnt the virtue of speed and economy. With two or three days to produce a finished product fit for broadcast, you couldn't afford to hang about! As a writer, serving as a script editor and sometimes commissioning new plays from scratch or via submitted synopses, one learnt objectivity and to be dramatically articulate. Alfred Bradley always used to say, it wasn't enough to return a script to a writer that you felt was rubbish with no comment. You owed it to him, as a producer, a written explanation as to why you felt it was rubbish. Subsequently, I brought that speed and objectivity to bear, I trust, on my own work.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Arriving Soon...

The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's latest play Arrivals & Departures is fast approaching.
In rehearsals for Arrivals & Departures
Arrivals & Departures is Alan's 77th play and sees the playwright once again pushing his writing in new directions again.
"Arrivals & Departures evolved from the idea of telling a story through memories," said the playwright. "Nowadays, one of the interests for me as a writer is to surprise and intrigue the audience through the way you tell the story, as much as the story itself. There aren’t that many new stories to tell: it’s only in the way they are narrated that the story becomes new."
The play is set at a London mainline rail terminus, where an elaborate trap is being deployed in an attempt to capture a dangerous and elusive terrorist, codenamed Cerastes. Major Quentin Sexton and his hand-picked SSDO (Strategic Simulated Distractional Operations) Unit are poised, ready to pounce. To assist them, civilian witness Barry Hawkins (Kim Wall) and his ‘minder’ Ez Swain (Elizabeth Boag) are on hand to confirm final identification. What can possibly go wrong?
For the luckless Major quite a lot really, when his key witness turns out to be a garrulous, suspiciously unreliable traffic warden, and the minder a troubled young female soldier with severe attitude problems. On top of which, is Quentin’s so-called elite unit really all it’s cracked up to be?
Arrivals & Departures opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 1 August and is in repertory until 5 October. It will play in repertory with Alan's revival of Time Of My Life and, from 30 August, the world premiere of his two once act plays Farcicals.
Arrivals & Departures will also tour to the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, from 7 to 26 October, and to The Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, from 4 to 16 November.
Further details can be found at

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sam Walters / Alan Ayckbourn interview

Yesterday saw the announcement that Sam Walters is to retire as the Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond.
Sam is the longest serving Artistic Director in the UK and is retiring after 42 years leading one of only several permanent theatre-in-the-round spaces in the country (Theatre-in-the-round obviously inspires longevity as Alan Ayckbourn managed 37 years at the Stephen Joseph Theatre!).
The Orange Tree has long been the principal advocate of theatre-in-the-round in London and which Sam has passionately championed over the decades.
To mark Sam's retirement, the blog is reproducing extracts from an interview between Sam and Alan Ayckbourn from 2010, when Alan directed the hugely acclaimed London revival of Taking Steps at the Orange Tree.
Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website sends its best wishes to Sam and his wife, Auriol, on their retirement and for their future.

Sam Walters (looking at the Orange Tree stage): This space is a bit small, isn’t it Alan? 
Alan Ayckbourn: Well, chauvinistically I think that the Stephen Joseph theatre is the perfect size. 400 seats. But you don’t really want to go more than six rows back.
SW: I would have loved this to have been slightly bigger but it was determined by the constraints of the development. But yes, if you have more than six rows, when someone’s got their back to you, you could feel shutout. But if you’re close to them you feel you’re just looking over their shoulder.
AA: People do worry, when they haven’t been to the round, that they won’t like seeing people opposite them. But, of course, that’s the whole point of it, to use the old cliche of 'shared experience.' And the reason you enjoy a play is because you’re sharing it with a lot of other people who are also laughing at it. And if you’re watching something terribly serious, you allow your eye to rest on the action, but occasionally, it’s quite nice to watch someone completely wrapped in the scene with you. Otherwise, there’s no point in going to the theatre.
SW: Exactly. You might as well just be watching the television or a film at home. You and I are fairly fanatical about theatre-in-the-round - do you ever ask yourself the question, why isn’t the country packed with theatres-in-the-round?
AA: Well, it’s one of these things that doesn`t work in theory; but in practice, it works. What I object to are half-baked compromises. With theatres that have thrust stages on three sides, the actors just do not know where to stand. In-the-round is really the ultimate challenge. Stephen Joseph once said to me, if theatre is going to survive, it has to survive on its primary ingredients: the actors and the audience. In the end, it’s down to the acting, and the audience perceiving live acting.
SW: I absolutely agree, and it seems to me as we get more technology, and get more screen-
orientated, and we`ve got multi-channels and computers by which we can be entertained, if the theatre is going to go on surviving, it’s got to do what it does that is totally different, and it is that audience connection. And perhaps there ought to be a way for more theatre-in-the-round, because it’s the ultimate theatre acting.
AA: When you sit in a theatre like this, you know you’re not going to change the course of the play, but you will alter the evening perceptibly by your laughter or your interaction. The actors will subtly alter, and you’ll feel in control of it. And as anyone who’s done more than one performance of a show can tell you, it will vary from night to night depending on how they sense it is being perceived.
SW: And much more in a theatre like this, than a proscenium arch theatre.
AA: If you’ve worked in prosceniums like I have, the actors tend to refer to the audience as ‘it' or ‘them’ and they are a sort of anonymous body behind a curtain of light in another room. But the actors, last night, for instance, when I was sitting here watching The Promise, they were all damned aware. Some of the actors chose to stare at the audience quite closely; others tend to blur them out of focus, but nonetheless, they’re aware that there is a group of people surrounding them. I’ve known companies, my own in Scarborough in particular, where I’ve heard discussions about individual people in the audiences, like ‘that woman in the audience eating that huge packet of crisps and wrecking my every single line’.
SW: Is it chance that took you to the Stephen Joseph? You hadn't worked in-the-round, or knew anything about it, had you?
AA: Well, I was a stage manager at Leatherhead at the time. Now stage managers are their own mafia. They tend to stay in work and go from job to job, whereas actors get cast into the dole queue. So I was working as an ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) and the stage manager said: ‘Does anyone fancy a job in Scarborough?’, to which I said: ‘Where the hell is Scarborough?’, and he said: ‘Oh, it’s somewhere up North’, and I said: ‘Oh right, ok’. And then he said: ‘lt's in-the-round’, and I said: ‘What the hell is in-the-round?’, and he said: ‘Well, there’s no scenery’. So I said: ‘That sounds like an easy job’, and I just went up there. I’d been promised a small part, well, quite a big part really, in An inspector Calls in the summer, so it was a good start to the job. I was acting in it and stage managing it so actually it was quite hard work. But that was my first introduction to ‘in-the-round'.
SW: Somebody once said to me when I was first starting the profession that it was as difficult to get into a seaside rep as it was to get into a Hollywood blockbuster film, with both areas of the profession using the people they knew. So that the person directing the seaside rep had their own coterie of actors, and so did Stephen Spielberg or William Wyler; it’s no easier to break into one than the other. You’re like me; you like working with people you’ve worked with before.
AA: Yes, but there are dangers. One is that you work with people you’ve worked with before and it becomes a little too complacent. But when you’ve worked as long as I have, people I’ve worked with before haven’t necessarily worked together, or worked together with me. It’s like introducing friends that don’t know each other. But I’ve got a sort-of magical number of 20% who I would always like to be new, just to stir the mix a bit, because when a new person comes in, they look rather hot, rather good, and that tends to stir up the complacency. ‘My God! It’s a new kid on the block!’ One of my maxims, whether it be casting, or writing, or directing, is to try to keep the adrenalin running.
SW: Well, you do like to give yourself monstrous challenges, don’t you? As in, taking the Stephen Joseph, you’re faced with a theatre that has two auditoria, so you think, I need to have a play running in both, and you say ‘OK I’lI write two plays, but with one cast who’ll have to perform on two bloody stages on one night,” resulting in House & Garden. That really was the most extraordinary idea that you’ve had l think. But it worked.
AA: It was quite a tribute to a) the stage managers who were running it, and b) the actors controlling the pace. lt’s meant that ever since then I’ve never believed actors who say the play came down two minutes late because of laughs. You don’t put two minutes on a show for laughs! No. Maybe twenty seconds.
SW: But it had to be incredibly tight because both plays had to come cantering in at the same time for the curtain call to work.
AA: We used the same music at the end for both plays and I'd been into one of the plays, come out and was walking down the backstage corridor and all the walls had speakers with switches on - and if the switch was up you were listening to The Round theatre, and if the switch was down you were listening to The McCarthy theatre, and I switched between the two, and I thought something had broken because they were absolutely dead in sync.
SW: I went up to Scarborough to see those two plays, and l thought, no-one’s going to do them in London. At that stage, we still had the room above the pub so I really was thinking about it. And my worries were not only would Alan let me, but I’ll have to get permission to close the road! It would have been enormous fun here, but then sadly I heard that Trevor Nunn and the National had got their hands on it...
AA: It was my highest audience total. There were about 1,100 in the Lyttleton and 1,400 or 1,500 in the Olivier. So I had two and half a thousand people watching.
SW: What we want is a London built, not too large, but major permanent theatre-in-the-round, for productions to be mounted for it, or to come from Scarborough or the Royal Exchange or Stoke. That’s what we should be fighting for. A West End theatre so that instead of Ayckbourn’s plays having to go into a proscenium arch theatre when they come to London, they can actually go into a purpose built theatre-in-the-round, and other shows can be mounted for it. Because it is the future.

Article reproduced from The Orange Tree programme for Taking Steps (2010).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ask The Archivist: Favourite Ayckbourn 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: (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: A bit of a quirky question today! Now we know what the top ten most performed Ayckbourn plays are, what - as Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist - are your ten favourite plays?

Answer: This could be contentious! It's also not an easy question as there are plays which I appreciate and would say are essential to see to gain an appreciation of Alan's body of work - but which aren't necessarily plays I would put in my favourite list. I also came to Alan's plays during the mid '80s, so my initial impression of Alan was very different to, say, someone who discovered Alan's writing during the '70s, which also affects my favourites. But enough stalling(!), this is my list of 10 personal favourite Ayckbourn plays listed in chronological order rather than order of preference. Please feel free to disagree!

Simon Murgatroyd's Top Ten Ayckbourn Plays (chronological)
> Absurd Person Singular (1972)
> Absent Friends (1974)
> Just Between Ourselves (1976)
> Woman In Mind (1985)
> Henceforward... (1986)
> A Small Family Business (1987)
> Haunting Julia (1994)
> Comic Potential (1998)
> My Sister Sadie (2003)
> Private Fears In Public Places (2004)

Plays which just missed out on a place in the list include The Norman Conquests (one or three plays!), Man Of The Moment, Invisible Friends and Time Of My Life.

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Celebrating Ayckbourn launched

Celebrating Ayckbourn has now been launched on the Samuel French website to mark two Ayckbourn significant anniversaries.
The page has been created to mark the 50th anniversary of Mr Whatnot this year - this being the earliest play in the Ayckbourn canon that is available to read and performed - and the 75th birthday of Alan Ayckbourn in 2014.
Over approximately 18 months, the page will celebrate the plays of Alan Ayckbourn with each week focusing on a different play which has been published and is available to perform.
The page - which includes material from Alan Ayckbourn's official website - will offer a glimpse into each play with some facts and figures as well as photographs from amateur productions of the play across the years.
Anyone can submit photos (or interesting stories) to the Celebrating Ayckbourn page with a selection relevant to that week's play being used on the page each week. Any photos that don't make it onto the Celebrating Ayckbourn page will still be used in an album on the Samuel French Facebook page (click here) celebrating the many and varied Ayckbourn productions by amateurs over the years.
Celebrating Ayckbourn is now up and running (click here to visit the page) and its first week will celebrate Mr Whatnot. The next eight weeks will encompass Relatively SpeakingHow The Other Half LovesFamily CirclesTime and Time AgainErnie's Incredible IllucinationsAbsurd Person SingularCountdown and Living Together. If you have any photographs relating to these plays, you should send them to
You can also find the latest news about the page via the Samuel French Facebook page here.