Friday, June 27, 2014

New Feature At Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website

A new addition has begun to be added to Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website offering even further insight into the writer's plays.
Quotes and thoughts on individual plays by writers other than the playwright are being added offering the chance to demonstrate different perceptions of the play and thoughts about their significance.
Currently the website features quotes and articles on every Ayckbourn play (as well as many other details) by both the playwright and his Archivist as well as critical redactions to significant productions, but this new feature offers a broader insight into reaction to the play.
Quotes are being added from publications and articles about Alan Ayckbourn and will continue to be updated over the coming months; hopefully the quotes will give a taste of various authors' thoughts on the play in question which will encourage readers to seek out the author's full opinions and thoughts in the relevant publications.
The new pages can be found by visiting the Plays section of www.alanayckbourn.net and picking one of the full-length plays. From each play's home-page, a link (if available for that play) to 'Other Quotes' can be found in the right hand column (or if you are on the 'Quotes' page, there will be a link to 'Other Quotes' in navigation bar).

For example, the 'Other Quotes' page for Absurd Person Singular can be found here and for A Small Family Business here.

This is an ongoing development for the website with more quotes and pages to be added in the coming months.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Absent Friends - 40th Anniversary

Alan Ayckbourn's classic play Absent Friends celebrates its 40th anniversary today.
On 17 June 1974, the play was premiered in the playwright's adopted home town of Scarborough and has gone on to become an enduring and significant work in his canon.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary, we've got 40 facts about Absent Friends:

40 Things You Might Not Know About Absent Friends!

1) Absent Friends was written in reaction to the work which preceded it, The Norman Conquests. From a massive trilogy of interwoven plays set over a weekend, Alan went to an intimate 'chamber' piece.
2) It was though inspired by a scene in The Norman Conquests where essentially nothing happens; characters just talk without advancing the plot but where we learn about them and their relationships.
3) Absent Friends is thus a play in which the author admits nothing really happens; it is driven entirely by actions and reactions.
4) Early ideas for the play included setting it around a dinner party where we would see events from a female perspective and then the male perspective before combining the two elements in the final act.
5) Alan Ayckbourn eventually settled on one of the simplest structures of any of his plays: six characters in one room in 2 acts.
6) Unusually, it was inspired by a specific event in Alan Ayckbourn's life in which he attended a tea party for a woman whose husband had died during their honeymoon and who insisted theirs would have been a perfect marriage.
7) It was his first play set in real time; a minute of stage time equals a minute of audience time and the same amount of time passes for both the characters and the audience.
8) Proposed titles for the play included A House Divided
9) and According To Taste...
10) and Dividing Line.
11) Before finally settling on Absent Friends.
12) The playwright recalls he had not written a single word of the play by the Thursday morning before rehearsals were due to start on the Monday morning.
13) The play was written during the Thursday and Friday, typed up and copied on the Saturday before being delivered to the cast on Sunday for rehearsals the following day.
14) Rehearsals began on 27 May 1974 for three weeks.
15) Absent Friends opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 17 June 1974.
16) It was Alan Ayckbourn's 16th play.
17) The production featured Christopher Godwin as Colin (he also gave the original performances of Leonard in Time & Time Again, Norman in The Norman Conquests and Trevor in Bedroom Farce among others).
18) Heather Stoney, who is now Alan Ayckbourn's wife, played the role of Diana in the original production.
19) The production also featured Janet Dale, Ronald Herdman, Stephen Mallatratt and Eileen O'Brien.
20) Although the play is often described as being about death, the playwright considers it to be more accurately about "the death of love."
21) The play was optioned for the West End by the producer Michael Codron immediately following its world premiere.
22) It opened in London just 13 months later on 23 July 1975 at the Garrick Theatre.
23) It was directed by Eric Thompson, who had previously directed the London acclaimed premieres of Time & Time Again, Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests.
24) It marked the final time Eric Thompson and Alan Ayckbourn would work together following disappointment in Absent Friends and the failure of the musical Jeeves in the same year. 
25) The London production featured Richard Briers as Colin; his final appearance in the London premiere of an Ayckbourn play having previously appeared in Relatively Speaking and Absurd Person Singular.
26) The play also featured Peter Bowles as Paul, who would later go on to memorably star as Vic opposite Michael Gambon's Douglas in the West End premiere of Man Of The Moment in 1990.
27) Absent Friends opened in London whilst both Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests were playing, meaning the playwright had a record five plays running simultaneously in London.
28) Absent Friends ran for less than a year in the West End, closing on 24 April 1975, and was deemed an unsatisfactory transfer by the playwright.
29) Peter Hall, Artistic Director of the National Theatre, was a particular fan of Absent Friends and initially hoped it might receive its London premiere at the National. Although this did not happen, it put in motion plans for Alan's National debut with Bedroom Farce in 1977.
30) Absent Friends was first published in 1975 in an acting edition by Samuel French...
31) And was subsequently published in a mass market hardback by Chatto & Windus and paperback by Penguin and Vintage Classics.
32) The BBC adapted it for radio in 1977 - apparently without the permission of the playwright. The result was a truncated sixty minute version starring David Jason and Miriam Margoyles; this has since been withdrawn from broadcast.
33) The recording was released on vinyl though and this is regarded as a genuine - and very rare - Ayckbourn collectible.
34) Far more satisfactory was the BBC's television adaptation in 1985 which featured Tom Courtenay as Colin and Julia McKenzie as Diana.
35) Julia McKenzie's bravura performance was one of the reasons why shortly afterwards, Alan Ayckbourn asked her to play Susan in the West End premiere of Woman in Mind.
36) Absent Friends received its New York premiere on 12 February 1991 at the Manhattan Theatre Club with Brenda Blethyn playing Diana.
37) It ask featured a young unknown actress called Gillian Anderson playing the role of Evelyn. Shortly afterwards she was cast as Agent Dana Scully in the global television hit The X Files.
38) Alan Ayckbourn revived the play in 1997 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, again Evelyn's role was taken by a little known actress called Tamzin Outhwaite. Shortly afterwards she was cast in the BBC soap opera EastEnders.
39) Absent Friends was revived to much acclaim in London in 2012 at the Harold Pinter Theatre with Jeremy Herrin directing.
40) Forty years on, Absent Friends remains a play of which Alan Ayckbourn is very fond.

You can find out more about Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends at his official website here.

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ask The Archivist: Second Most Performed Playwright?

Once again it's time to reprint the most reprinted article on this blog with the most frequently asked question about Alan Ayckbourn. In today's BBC interview with Sir Alan, it says: 'There is an oft-quoted fact that Sir Alan Ayckbourn is second only to William Shakespeare in the league of the UK's most-performed playwrights.' Is this true?

Not as far as Alan Ayckbourn or I am aware. And it's certainly not a fact.
It is actually just a quote perpetually propagated in the press from one publication to the next without anyone actually checking to see whether it's accurate and where the source of this information comes from.
So if anyone asks is Alan Ayckbourn the second moist performed playwright in the UK?
I've no idea.
And despite what you may have read, no matter what the quality of the publication, neither does anyone else.
No-one can say with any degree of certainty where in the UK (or world) theatrical pop charts Shakespeare, Alan Ayckbourn, Alan Bennett, John Godber or any other playwright stands.
We can take an educated guess (Shakespeare as number 1...), but that's about it as no-one has done any definitive research into this for years and even that dated research (which is, in all likelihood, where all this stems from) is somewhat flawed given it was only about a specific facet of British theatre at a very specific time.
So where does this oft-repeated but unsubstantiated fact come from?
And, no, it doesn't come from Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website www.alanayckbourn.net!

As far as I've been able to discover, this fatuous quote originates in statistics published in 1990 - but to put these figures into context, we need to go back a few years.
In 1983, the Arts Council of Great Britain (as it was known), published for the first time statistics about regional theatres in the UK subsidised by the Arts Council (keep that in mind...). Compiled over a two year period, it reported on the most performed play (Cider With Rosie apparently), audience figures and, amongst other facts, the most popular playwrights.
Between 1981 and 1983, more people went to see an Ayckbourn play than a Shakespeare play - although there were slightly more productions of Shakespeare than Ayckbourn. This was promptly reported in the media that Alan Ayckbourn was the UK's most popular playwright and it would often be repeated without any kind of context.
For it's important before we get to 1990 to put these figures into a context.
They are pertinent only to regional theatres subsidised by the Arts Council. They do not include regional commerical theatres, West End theatres or amateur productions.
It's an interesting but somewhat limited view of British Theatre during a very specific period between 1981 and 1983.
These reports from the Arts Council continued to be published, again restricted to the same criteria, fairly regularly with Alan and Shakespeare battling it out for the top spot and swapping places fairly regularly.
In 1990, the Arts Council published its Cultural Trends report which included the statistic that Alan Ayckbourn was the second most popular playwright after Shakespeare. In context, this was limited to the previous 12 months and was again limited to regional subsidised theatres.
The Arts Council eventually stopped publishing such specific figures about plays and playwrights and I'm unaware of any major media story on the popularity of Alan Ayckbourn (or any other playwright), validated by actual facts and statistics, since the mid 1990s. The Arts Council statistics from 1990 appear to have been the last to have been widely reported.

So when I rhetorically ask myself where did the 'fact' Alan is the second most performed playwright come from, my answer is: probably an Arts Council report in 1990 that has been regurgitated and repeated ad nauseum without anyone questioning where the statistic came from or, more importantly, whether its accurate or can be substantiated.
Let's emphasise, there is no doubt Alan Ayckbourn is an extremely popular playwright - had the reports included amateur, commerical tours and West End productions during the '70s and '80s into the '90s, I have absolutely no doubt he would have had the highest attendance of any living playwright in the country during that period. But no-one can specifically say how popular he was then or now.
Or any other playwright for that matter.

Today, Alan's plays are still a staple of subsidised theatres in the UK as well as amateur companies. Generally there's at least one major tour of an Ayckbourn play going on at any one time in the UK (currently Bath Theatre Royal's excellent revival of Things We Do For Love) and since 2008, there has been at least one play in the West End every year (currently A Small Family Business at the National Theatre).
I've little doubt that were someone able to pull all the statistics together, Alan would today still be in the top five performed playwrights in the UK. But the problem is no single organisation is keeping track of all those statistics for all the plays and productions staged in the UK by popular playwrights.

So if you see anyone definitely state Alan Ayckbourn (or any other playwright) is the first, second, third or twenty-third most performed playwright in the UK, take it with a pinch of salt or, better still, write and ask where they got the statistic from. It'd be fascinating to know (and if they say Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website, you know they're fibbing...).
All we can say with any certainty is the line oft-repeated on his website, that Alan Ayckbourn is one of the country's most performed living playwrights.

Saying all that though, if someone were to ask me who the most performed playwright in the UK was. Well, I'd take a shot. I may be Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist, but I wouldn't bet against Mr Shakespeare. He's got pretty good form....

You can find out more about this subject on Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here and read the original Arts Council press release from 1983 here.

If you have any Ayckbourn-related questions you'd like to ask Sir Alan's Archivist, emails them to admin@alanayckbourn.net.