Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Scarborough In The Round Launch

Today sees the official launch of our new website Scarborough In The Round at www.theatre-in-the-round.co.uk.
This website explores the history of theatre-in-the-round in the seaside town of Scarborough, where the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company was launched in 1955.
Scarborough In The Round offers an in-depth look at the history of the Library Theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and the Stephen Joseph Theatre and the company's relationship with its home-town.
It is the third and final part of a trio of websites alongside Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website and the Stephen Joseph & The Library Theatre site exploring the theatre and the people most associated with it.
The new site, which features a considerable amount of new research, complements both of its sister-sites by offering a broader perspective of the venues most closely associated with British theatre pioneer Stephen Joseph and his protege, Alan Ayckbourn. Between them they ran the company from 1955 to 2009 and Scarborough In The Round offers a broader perspective of what was taking place at the theatre during their tenures as Artistic Director, concentrating on the entire theatre programme as opposed to just the plays they directed - and in the case of Alan Ayckbourn, wrote.
Since 1955, the company has produced 609 plays and every one of them has its own dedicated production page at Scarborough In The Round - alongside a number of upstaged production pages - from 1955 through to the present day, including all plays staged since 2009 under the present Artistic Director Chris Monks.
There are also historical details of the three theatre-in-the-round venues in the town as well as a year-by-year chronology of major events and significant productions. A section explores the company's major legacy of new writing which has seen 326 world premieres in Scarborough since 1955.
There is also a listing of every actor to have worked with the company as well as comprehensive lists of directors, playwrights, designers, stage management and many of the other people who have had a hand in producing six decades worth of plays.
Scarborough In The Round has also been launched to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the company in 1955 and will also carry details of events relating to the anniversary in the months ahead. 
If you'd like to know more about the theatre in which Alan Ayckbourn began his writing and directing careers and to which he is inextricably linked, visit Scarborough In The Round at www.theatre-in-the-round.co.uk.

Scarborough In The Round also has an accompanying blog at http://theatre-in-the-round.blogspot.co.uk which will carry articles about the history of theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough as well as its own Twitter page here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

50th Anniversary Of West End Debut

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first Ayckbourn play in the West End.
On 6 August, 1964, Alan Ayckbourn's Mr Whatnot opened at the New Arts Theatre and was subsequently mauled by the critics. It closed just two weeks later on 22 August 1964 and left Alan so depressed, he considered giving up playwriting and for the next five years he worked for the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer in Leeds.
Fortunately, Alan didn't stop writing and Mr Whatnot was followed into the West End in 1967 by Relatively Speaking, which was considerably more successful!
To mark the 50th anniversary of Mr Whatnot going into the West End, the blog is presenting an extract from the excellent Conversations With Ayckbourn, by Ian Watson (Faber, 1988) in which Alan discusses the experience in an interview from 1981.

"Almost everything went wrong with the London production. [The producer] Peter Bridge bought it. He first of all suggested we take the whole production down [from the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent where it premiered]. Peter Cheeseman [the Victoria's Artistic Director] was less than enthusiastic about taking the whole cast, but agreed. But Peter Bridge then went back on that and said, 'No, perhaps this is bit risky. Perhaps we should think about getting a slightly better-known cast.
Programme cover for the West
End production of Mr Whatnot
And perhaps, on second thoughts, the director [Alan Ayckbourn] shouldn't also be the writer, because writer-directors are not a good idea.' So, could I think of anybody? And I said, 'Well, yes, why not Clifford Williams?' because he, after all, had done two of my earlier shows and I liked him. Clifford came up: he was at the Royal Shakespeare Company by then. He was heavily involved, 1think quite liked the show but said he couldn't do it himself, and suggested another Welshman - Welshmen stick together, you see - Warren Jenkins. Warren I didn't know, but he was then directing at Cardiff.
Where it didn't work, to put it bluntly, was that he was not happy with the play and he was not happy with the company, which I think was the most extraordinary mixture of talents. There was a young Judy Cornwell, there was a youngish Ronnie Barker, as headstrong as Ronnie is now, a very talented Ronnie Stevens, who also wanted to go his own way; and Judy Campbell, who was a totally straight actress, and Diane Clare, totally straight - both in their way experienced. And then, in the middle of this, a very young actor straight from the provinces, thrown in as the lead, who was to dominate the whole thing; and a very young Christopher Godwin also, playing the vicar and the pedestrian. The other member of the cast was Marie Lohr, a wonderful old lady who was actually the right age to play it - well, strictly she was too old to play it, she was in her seventies - and she gamely battled through the script, playing vigorous games of imaginary tennis, and broke her knee. So she was labouring under the most terrible handicap by the time we opened, with her knee strapped up. Anyway, that was the chemistry. That was the first thing: that the balance of cast and the director itself was wrong. The second thing that was wrong was that it was overproduced, and that far too much money was spent on it. Peter Rice, who'd done a lot of very nice designs for operas, came in and did some very, very decorative sets, none of which added to it. He added slides to a show that supposedly had to do with imagination.
The other thing I learned was that while theatre-in-the-round can be quite small - every square inch of space is viable playing space - when you put something on to an equivalent quite small proscenium stage, there is no way you can get it all on. Warren had put in some very charming music by Vivian Ellis, which was totally wrong. I was looking for Ibert and Poulenc - those very French things. I wanted spiky little French tunes, and I was getting rather nice little English tunes. And the thing was rapidly becoming very chintzy and very charming. It was in fact, as I think one critic called it, a very gushy evening, very pretty, very winsome. I find Marcel Marceau slightly charming, but he opened the same week as us (which wasn't a very good omen), and by comparison his show was so butch it was unbelievable. We were fairy-time, you know. If ever a show deserved to close, that one did."

You can read more about Mr Whatnot and Alan Ayckbourn's first West End production at his official website by clicking here.

Extract from Conversations With Ayckbourn (second edition, Faber, 1988) by Ian Watson, pp.51-52