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.