Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn's Latest Play Heading To New York

Alan Ayckbourn is returning to the Brits Off Broadway festival in New York in 2016 with his latest play and a revival of a classic.
Hero's Welcome
Following a UK tour, the playwright's most recent work, Hero's Welcome, and his acclaimed revival of his classic 1974 play Confusions will head to the 59E59 Theaters from week of 25 May to 3 July.
Alan Ayckbourn's productions have been highly acclaimed at the Brits Off Broadway starting with Private Fears In Public Places in 2005. This will be the playwright's sixth visit to the festival.
Writer and director Alan Ayckbourn said: “A chance to see, for those who doubt it (!) how my work has changed over 40 years. I must say, I hardly recognised myself...”
New York marks the culmination of a UK tour for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, with Hero's Welcome and Confusions
The plays will tour to Guildford, Cambridge, Bath, Windsor, Eastbourne and Malvern from January to March before heading to the Brits off Broadway Festival in New York in the summer.
Confusions
The Confusions cast features Stephen Billington and Emma Manton in their company debuts alongside company veterans Russell Dixon, Richard Stacey and Elizabeth Boag.
The cast also appear in Hero’s Welcome with a sixth company member, Evelyn Hoskins who now joins the tour, having made her SJT debut in the musical adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's The Boy Who Fell Into A Book in 2014.
 The 2016 tour begins at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (13 – 23 January), followed by Cambridge Arts Theatre (1-6 February), Theatre Royal Windsor (8 – 13 February), Theatre Royal Bath (15-20 February), Eastbourne Theatres (22-27 February) and Malvern Theatres (29 February - 5 March).
Tickets for Confusions and Hero’s Welcome for all UK venues can be booked through the Stephen Joseph Theatre website at www.sjt.uk.com.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Bedroom Farce

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Bedroom Farce (1975)
Bedroom Farce celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and remains notable not only as one of Alan's Ayckbourn's most consistently popular plays over the past four decades, but also as his inaugural play at the National Theatre.
Alan began work on the play during the short West End run of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's ill-fated musical Jeeves; the earliest existing reference to Bedroom Farce is a sketch on the back of a Jeeves rehearsal manuscript (which can be seen at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here).
Originally, the play featured four couples and four bedrooms which was refined over time to four couples and three bedrooms, meaning one couple is constantly disrupting the lines of the other couples.
Like the vast majority of his plays, Bedroom Farce was premiered in Scarborough (although it had been commissioned by the National Theatre, which gave Alan dispensation to stage it in Scarborough first) and in this case at the Library Theatre. It was intended to be performed in the round as the sketch by the playwright below shows (click on image to enlarge).

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
As can be seen, we have the three bedrooms all pointing inwards along with the various props for each room. However this set design was never utilised.
Alan apparently had not quite realised just how big double beds were and the difficulties they would present in the Concert Room space at the Library Theatre!
As a result, the set was redesigned to be presented three-sided in the Library Theatre, so - uniquely - this was a play commissioned for the end-stage by the National Theatre but intended to first open in-the-round in Scarborough, but where it had to be performed three-sided as the image below shows (click to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Alan Ayckbourn would not actually get a chance to direct Bedroom Farce in-the-round until he revived it at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2000.
Bedroom Farce opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 16 June 1975 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

This is the final Archiving Ayckbourn feature of 2015, we'll be resuming with Just Between Ourselves on Friday 8 January 2016.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Jeeves

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Jeeves (1975)
Jeeves is - 40 years on - still one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most infamous creations.
This was a musical written with Andrew Lloyd Webber which even today remains as one of the West End’s legendary flops, closing after less than a month following an extraordinarily torrid journey to the stage.
The musical itself was salvaged and regained respectability twenty years after it opened when Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber revamped and rewrote it as By Jeeves; but Jeeves itself still remains an object of great interest.
Of the many tales associated with the play, Archiving Ayckbourn will focus on just the one this week with a rare peek at the original hand-written draft of a song which never made it to the West End and has rarely been heard (or, in this case, seen). Click on the image below to enlarge it.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Click on image to enlarge
This is Alan Ayckbourn’s original draft for a completed song, then known as Dahlia’s Song, which was sung by Bertie’s Wooster’s aunt Dahlia.
This was the fifth song in the second hand-written draft of the musical (the earliest extant draft of the musical available) where it is called Aunt Dahlia (Menu Song).
By the first typed draft of the musical - entitled An Evening With Bertram Wooster - the song’s title had now changed to Food’s Old Sweet Song and is now the evening's fourth song with four songs having been cut from the original draft.
Between rehearsals and the original pre-West End production at the Bristol hippodrome, the title is again changed to Food Of Love.
The song itself introduced a major sub-plot in Jeeves which sees Aunt Dahlia forcing Bertie to recover a contract that ties her beloved chef to the nefarious villain, Spode.
The role of Dahlia was a small part, but a star one with the actress Betty Marsden cast in the role. She, along with Michael Aldridge, get top-billing on posters and flyers for the Bristol run of the musical.
Famously, the opening night at the Bristol Hippodrome ran more than three-and-half-hours and when the orchestra walked out near the end (having played for the contractually agreed maximum amount of time), the conductor had to dive into the pit and keep playing on the piano!
The next day, it was decided major cuts had to be made. Including losing one of the stars of the show. The character of Dahlia and her entire subplot were removed by Alan in order to reduce the running time. With it went the song, which was only ever heard by the public briefly at Bristol Hippodrome.
Betty Marsden, as one might imagine, was not best pleased by the decision - but given the fate of the musical, she probably got the best of a bad situation.
These notes alongside many of the other hand-written Jeeves lyrics are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York.
Jeeves opened at the Bristol Hippodrome on 22 March 1975 before transferring to Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 22 April 1975, and was directed by Eric Thompson. More details about the musical can be found here.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Confusions

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Confusions (1974)
Confusions was the second play Alan Ayckbourn wrote in 1974 as a result of needing a piece to launch winter touring from Scarborough's Library Theatre, whilst unable to revive his earlier play, Absent Friends, due to it being optioned for the West End.
Confusions consists of five short one act plays for a company of five actors, playing 20 different roles. One of the motivations for writing the play was the chance to highlight the talents of his acting company at the time.
The starting point of the play was an existing one act play, Mother Figure, with Alan writing another four plays to accompany it; originally Alan planned to have Confusions consist of six plays rather than five.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The image above (click on image to enlarge) shows Alan developing the structure of the play as well as the relationships between the characters and showing how each play is subtly linked to the other.
The notes at the top relate to what Alan refers to as the 'Dining Room' play further down in the notes, but which we now know as Between Mouthfuls. On the left hand side we have Emma & Donald Pearce and on the right Polly and Martin Chalmers; the notes reveal all the salient points of the final plot are in place with Donald and Polly having an affair whilst Emma realises her husband is having a 'thing' with someone and Martin is 'self-centred about his own career.'
The centre of the notes on the left hand side features the five actors: Stan (Stanley Page), Chris (Christopher Godwin), Stephen (Stephen Mallatratt), Lucy (the only person not cast at that point and which would eventually be Janet Dale) and Eileen (Eileen O'Brien).
Next to it is the structure of the five plays with the name of the relevant characters in each play and how they connect. At this point the plays - aside from Mother Figure - do not have names. We have Bar (Drinking Companion), Dining Room (Between Mouthfuls), Tent (Gosforth's Fete) and Park (A Talk In The Park).
Beneath that, we have the character names for Gosforth's Fete starting with Gordon Gosforth - 'the organiser publican'.
It's worth noting that at this stage of writing, only the first four plays are indicated as being connected: Lucy to Harry (Wife & Husband) connecting Mother Figure and Drinking Companion; the same waiter connecting Drinking Companion and Between Mouthfuls; Emma Pearce connecting Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth's Fete. At this point, there is no link between Gosforth's Fete and A Talk In The Park which will later be the most subtle of connections with Doreen being the ex-wife of Gosforth.
Confusions opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 30 September 1974 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn Articles / Interviews On Website

Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website has launched a new section collecting articles by and about Alan Ayckbourn alongside interviews with the playwright.
More than 200 articles have been brought together in the new Articles / Research section of www.alanayckbourn.net covering a wide spectrum of subjects.
From Alan Ayckbourn writing about his first job to his love of Scarborough or the playwright's view on dozens of his plays, the section offers a comprehensive insight into the author's thoughts during the past 50 years.
The section also includes articles about Alan Ayckbourn and his plays by the playwright's archivist and website founder, Simon Murgatroyd, looking at both specific plays as well as Ayckbourn's work in a wider context.
Finally, an interview section has been included predominantly drawing on interviews between Simon Murgatroyd and Alan Ayckbourn but also with fascinating pieces such as the first published interview  with Alan Ayckbourn in 1963 and the complete transcription of Alan Yentob's interview for the BBC programme Imagine - including much of what was cut from the 2011 programme.
This section will be expanded in the coming months with more articles and interviews. You can begin reading the articles by clicking here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Absent Friends

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Absent Friends (1974)
Having written a trilogy of plays for the 1973 season at the Library Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn decided to go intimate the following year with Absent Friends.
From The Norman Conquests, which chronicled the events of a weekend from three different perspectives, Alan wrote a play set in a single space during the course of an afternoon which played out in real time (the same amount of time passes in the play for the characters as it does for the audience).
The road to the final play was not a simple one as notes held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York reveal. This was a play which went through a number of different itinerations before arriving in its final form. An early idea was a dinner told from the perspective of the men and the women before bringing both together. This idea is illustrated in the notes below (click on image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Here we have Alan's plan for both the structure of the play (at the bottom) and the relationships of the characters (top) from a very early concept for the play.
Beginning with the characters we have the husband and wife in the centre with the husband described as 'go ahead' and 'driver'. This presumably relates to Paul & Diana in the actual play. To the right, we have the 'friend with d. wife' - or Colin as we come to know him. He is described as a 'bore - her lover - of sorts.' It's not clear what the 'd.' stands for, but presumably 'dead' as in the final play and given the note about the brother which is mentioned below.
The final couple on the left of the page are described as brother and sister (as opposed to the married couple of John and Evelyn in the actual play.
The brother is described as 'weedy' and 'sympathetic to W [presumably the wife] - but unable to help' as well as being 'phobic and hypochondriac' (which sounds like the off-stage Gordon in the final play) and the 'death of wife affects him.'
At this stage the play is still centred on a dinner party and lay-outs for the circular table can be seen drawn in pencil on the right as well as some of Alan's doodles, which also appeared in our last look at Alan's notes with Time & Time Again.
On the bottom right of the play,we have the names of the characters - some familiar, some not: Dianah - the depressive [presumably Diana in the actual play]; Mark - the driver [renamed Paul]; Colin - pill swallower [the name stays the same but there is no indication of being on medication in the final play]; Evelyn - the mother [as in the play]; Sandra - the flirt [presumably equating to the non-flirtious Marge] and Ted - the boy [the third man is named John in the final play]. Interestingly, Alan names six characters and has six in his diagrams, but only has five characters in the relationships tree at the top of the page.
The final insight into this early idea is the structure of the play in the bottom left hand corner. Here we have a three act play set in a dining room with the first act showing the 'pre-dinner / dinner' from the perspective of the three female characters. The second act is the same action viewed from the perspective of the three male characters with the final act bringing all the characters together later for coffee and then home.
As can be seen, this one sheet of Alan's notes offers a completely different version of Absent Friends - which still has recognisable elements of the actual play - and helps illustrates the process Alan Ayckbourn goes through during play-writing.
Absent Friends opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 17 June 1974 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn: Director updated

Anyone interested in the career of Alan Ayckbourn as a director should visit the improved Directing section at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website.
The section extensively explores Alan Ayckbourn's career as a director (which encompasses more than 350 productions since 1961) with details of every production he has directed.
From the home-page, improvements have particularly emphasised productions of work by authors other than himself (which can be accessed from the right hand column on the Directing home-page) with full production credits and notes added to these pages.
Several major additions are planned for the website in the coming months offering even more information on the playwrights, his plays and career in theatre. Watch this space.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: The Norman Conquests

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

The Norman Conquests (1973)
The Norman Conquests is one of the most significant creations in the Ayckbourn canon. Voted one of the 20th century's most important plays by the National Theatre, it remains an exceptionally popular Ayckbourn play.
The origins of the trilogy have been well-documented with Alan Ayckbourn flippantly telling a journalist in 1972 his next project would be a trilogy - only to forget about the comment until the journalist published the story the next year, much to the consternation of the Library Theatre which knew nothing of this plan!
When originally produced at the Library Theatre in 1973, the trilogy was not known as The Norman Conquests and the fact it was a trilogy played down; the theory being Scarborough's tourists might be put off seeing a show if they felt obliged to spend three nights of their holiday in a theatre.
The trilogy gained its now familiar title when it was produced at the Greenwich Theatre, prior to its massively successful West End run.
Copyright: Greenwich Theatre
The flyer above (click on image to enlarge) is one of the earliest pieces of publicity featuring the title of The Norman Conquests. It also features an introduction to the plays by Alan Ayckbourn himself, noting how the plays do not have to be seen in any specific order and not all three plays have to be seen to enjoy them.
The cast features five of the company which went on to the West End including Tom Courtenay as Norman. The only person that did not transfer - due to existing commitments - was Penelope Wilton; she was replaced by Bridget Turner in the West End.
Although the London premiere of The Norman Conquests is generally regarded as the transfer to the Globe Theatre on 1 August 1974, it is more accurate to say the London premiere was at the Greenwich Theatre, making the rarity of material about the play from Greenwich of extra historic interest.
Given the scope of The Norman Conquests, I've also included a personal favourite from the archive with an unused concept poster for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of The Norman Conquests at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1993.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
This design was - perhaps unsurprisingly - abandoned in favour of another image, but possibly remains a unique take on advertising the trilogy and is quite unlike any other poster for The Norman Conquests this Archivist has seen over the years!
The Norman Conquests opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 18 June 1973 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Absurd Person Singular

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Absurd Person Singular (1972)
Absurd Person Singular remains - more than 40 years on - one of Alan Ayckbourn's most popular plays. It is still the most successful Ayckbourn to have been produced in the West End and by far the most successful Ayckbourn play to have been performed on Broadway.
It introduced the first of Ayckbourn's major off-stage characters in Dick & Lottie Potter - so vividly realised that some people have insisted they were a fourth couple on stage - and introduced the world to Sidney & Jane Hopcroft; two characters who are now regarded as epitomising the rise of the Thatcherite values which later that decade changed the face of the country.
It is also the first of Alan Ayckbourn's off-stage plays; he began writing the play set in three living rooms but soon realised that the most interesting action was taking place off-stage in the kitchen (as with any good party!). The location of the play was thus shifted to the three kitchens.
The archival item is taken from the first page of the second draft of the play (sadly the first draft no longer exists) in which the action has been transposed to the kitchen (click on the image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This introduction to the play broadly follows the text which opens the published edition of the play but with several notable alterations. Here we get a description of Jane as 'rather mousey and plain' which is not present in the final text.
Also not present in the play script is the note that Sidney "treats his wife Jane with a sort of hearty, distant manner."
The extensive hand-written notes held for this draft closely reflect the final play, although it is sad from a historical point of view that no drafts exist in which Dick & Lottie Potter are present as an on-stage fourth couple as was the original intent before the action moved to the kitchens.
The notes and early drafts of Absurd Person Singular are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute For Archives at the University Of York.
Further archive articles pertaining to Absurd Person Singular can be found at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website by clicking here.
Absurd Person Singular opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 26 June 1972 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Time And Time Again

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Time And Time Again (1971)
Time And Time Again is credited as being the first of Alan Ayckbourn's tragicomedies and the playwright considers it an important play in his development as a writer; he feels it is his first play where the drama develops entirely from character rather than plot contrivances.
The West End production of the play also began a long and successful collaboration with the producer Michael Codron as well as uniting Alan with the director Eric Thompson, who would direct a number of notable Ayckbourn productions in London including The Norman Conquests.
This week's archival item is a page from an early hand-written draft of the play by Alan Ayckbourn (click on the image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This is a very early - in all likelihood the first - draft of the action in Act II, Scene I where Leonard and Peter play draughts against each other. It's also a fine example of how hard it is to decipher Alan Ayckbourn's handwriting!
Compared to the scene as published, it is notable for several reasons. Most obviously, the entire scene is purely between Leonard and Peter and does not feature Anna and Graham sneaking around the garden spying on the men.
Midway down the page (just after the line break), the draft's dialogue begins to resemble that of the final play with Leonard and Peter realising they are playing an unwinnable game of draughts as one is playing on white squares and the other on black.
Rather than cutting to Anna and Graham observing their laughter at the discovery, the scene as originally written features an extended conversation between the men.

Leonard: Well - you're playing on the white squares - and I'm playing on the black - I can't take you and you can't take me.
Peter: Good lord... (dialogue unreadable)
Leonard: We've invented a new game.
Peter: So we have.
Leonard: Better call it pacifist drafts.
Peter: That's very good - pacifist draughts.

The page is also notable for other reasons too. In the top right of the page is a list of several proposed titles for the play: The Game's The Thing; Plays & Players; The Sporting Gnome and The Garden Pact. It's actually quite rare to find examples of Alan Ayckbourn's thought processes on the titles for his plays.
Finally, in the left-hand margin, you can see some of the many doodles that cover all of Alan Ayckbourn's hand-written drafts. Many of the surviving drafts of his early plays, held by the University of York, feature quite elaborate doodles - obviously an important part of the creative process!
Time And Time Again opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 8 July 1971 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Family Circles

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Family Circles (1970)
Family Circles is one of Alan Ayckbourn's stranger plays. Initially produced as The Story So Far... in Scarborough, it was then revised for two failed attempts to transfer into London's West End (renamed Me Times Me Times Me and later Me Times Me) before undergoing more revisions and becoming Family Circles; apparently the playwright still wasn't happy with the even after all these changes.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
This archival item relates to the original production at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, under the title The Story So Far....
It's an interesting example of what press releases were once like before regional theatre such as the Stephen Joseph Theatre had professional press officers and Communications departments.
The press release, specified for the Scarborough Evening News, was written by the theatre manager Ken Boden and reads more as a personal letter than what would normally be considered a press release; it's perhaps also worrying that Ken obviously believed the Scarborough Evening News was not aware of how popular the Library Theatre was and needed it brought to the publication's attention!
Considering this is a press release, it lacks any pertinent details about the play such as a plot synopsis (although Ken had probably not had time to read the play yet!) or even the dates the production was running.
It's also of particular interest to note that Alan delivered the script for duplication on 3 August with the play opening on 20 August meaning, essentially, two weeks of rehearsal. Alan was notorious for writing to the latest possible deadline (generally as close to rehearsals starting as possible!) until the late 1980s.
Family Circles (The Story So Far...) opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 20 August 1970 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: How The Other Half Loves

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

How The Other Half Loves (1969)
Having achieved initial success in London's West End with Relatively Speaking in 1967, Alan Ayckbourn cemented his reputation in 1970 with the phenomenally successful transfer of How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Like the vast majority of Alan's plays though, How The Other Half Loves opened in Scarborough. It premiered in 1969 at the Library Theatre and was a great success for the venue.
It has been argued that How The Other Half Loves marks the first - certainly well-known - use of an over-lapping set (not a composite set); anyone who has seen or read the play will know that two flats are laid on top of each other so action can take place simultaneously in both flats.
Sadly no plans for the original production survive and only one photograph exists (pictured above) which shows anything substantive of the innovative setting.
The photograph does, significantly, show the pivotal (literally) dinner scene in which two dinners on two different evenings are played simultaneously with two of the characters pivoting on their seats to 'move' between flats and time.
The 'pivot' seats in the photo are those not on the ends of the cross-shaped table; sadly the inventiveness of the set and the play was largely lost in the West End transfer when an ensemble play became dominated by the actor Robert Morley, whose alterations to the script and overwhelming presence proved attractive to audiences but did the play few favours.
The photograph marks a rare early insight into the original production of what has become one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous and successful plays.
How The Other Half Loves opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 31 July 1969 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: The Sparrow

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

The Sparrow (1967)
The Sparrow is the last of Alan Ayckbourn's early 'lost' plays - essentially plays which were withdrawn and have never been produced again after their initial production.
What makes The Sparrow interesting though is, written between Relatively Speaking and How The Other Half Loves, it is not a bad play. It is a very different play to those surrounding it and, as Alan has frequently noted, it essentially got lost amidst the success of Relatively Speaking and all that followed The Sparrow.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
That Alan still hoped there might be interest in The Sparrow can be seen in this letter from 1970 in which the un-named play offered as an alternative to How The Other Half Loves is The Sparrow.
The reasons Alan gives for which it fell by the wayside (with the exception of number four), largely pertain to the issues he had with the producer Peter Bridge, who did actually option it for the West End. The fact it was never produced Alan put down to the fact that Bridge wanted another play like Relatively Speaking (which The Sparrow wasn't) and that he couldn't attract a star cast.
Sadly, neither the recipient of the letter's interest nor Caroline Smith's intended production ever came to fruition and The Sparrow stayed in the 'bottom drawer' and has never been produced since.
It's only public outing since 1967 came in 2014 when Dick & Lottie, the UK's only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays, were given permission to do a rehearsed reading of the play as part of an Ayckbourn Marathon event to mark the company's 10th anniversary.
The Sparrow opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 13 July 1967 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Relatively Speaking

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Relatively Speaking (1965)
Relatively Speaking (or Meet My Father as it was originally produced at the Library Theatre, Scarborough) is, of course, Alan Ayckbourn's break-out play.
It was a huge success in the West End and the practically universally positive reviews essentially made Alan an overnight theatre sensation in 1967.
Copyright: Daily Mail
There's a lot of interesting items relating to the play (a selection of which can be found on the Relatively Speaking Archive page here), but this small article is a favourite.
This marks the first time the royal family came to visit an Alan Ayckbourn play and the Daily Mail reported them seeing Relatively Speaking on 23 May 1967 (just two months after it opened at the Duke Of York's Theatre).
Members of the royal family became frequent visitors to Alan's plays over the years and apparently the Queen Mother was a big fan until the mid-1980s, when it was apparently felt the plays had become slightly too dark.
Legend has it that Bernard the Gnome from the West End production of Time & Time Again went to one of the Queen Mother's residencies during the early 1970s.
There was a huge amount of interest in Alan and Relatively Speaking after its successful opening in the West End and this article shows just how much of an impact Alan obviously made.
Relatively Speaking opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 8 July 1965 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Mr Whatnot

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Mr Whatnot (1963)
Mr Whatnot marks a key point in Alan Ayckbourn's long career theatre. It marked not only his first play to open in the West End, but the response to that production almost drove him from theatre permanently.
Alan Ayckbourn & Bob Peck during rehearsals in Leeds.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The critical response to the 1964 West End production of Mr Whatnot was so bad, Alan joined the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer in Leeds between 1965 and 1970 initially with the intent of leaving theatre for good.
Fortunately, he continued to be involved with the Library Theatre in Scarborough and would find success in the West End in 1967 when Relatively Speaking opened in London.
It was whilst in Leeds though, Alan made a significant discovery in the shape of the actor Bob Peck, who he employed as an actor for the BBC, at the Library Theatre in Scarborough, and who he later worked with at the National Theatre.
Most intriguingly, he directed Bob in an amateur production of Mr Whatnot by Leeds Art Theatre at Leeds Civic Theatre in 1968; Alan was patron of the company and when one of their productions fell through, he offered to direct Mr Whatnot for them.
The photo shows Alan directing Bob Peck as Mint (or Mr Whatnot) for the production, the year before the actor joined Alan's company in Scarborough.
Of the actor himself, who died at the age of 53 having built an impressive career on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, on television - notably in Edge Of Darkness - and in films such as Jurassic Park, Alan Ayckbourn notably said: "I found Bob Peck in a cellar in Leeds. I forget how we both got there. I soon discovered an actor of strength, extraordinary natural technical ability, wit and truth. I've searched in cellars without success ever since for more Bob Pecks."
Mr Whatnot opened at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, on 12 November 1963 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Earliest To Latest: The Road To The Divide

The Divide is Alan Ayckbourn’s latest work, an epic narrative for voices in five parts which will be presented as a one-off gala reading on 27 September as part of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
The Divide is a satire of the sexes set in a post-catastrophe UK where men and women are segregated by the Divide. Told through documents and diaries, the piece brings to mind authors as diverse as Margaret Attwood and George Orwell with a touch of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Of course this isn’t the first time Alan Ayckbourn has ventured into the future in his writing and his interest in it stems from a young love of the golden age of science-fiction writers.
“I began to love the allegorical stories they told, when they were using science-fiction as an allegory of, if we continue thus, then we will finish up here. This particular realm of science-fantasy wrote about the present day from a future stand-point, which - of course - is a very strong part of science-fiction. Reflecting the present day or extending the trends of the present day to its logical conclusion.”
The influence of such writers can be seen throughout Alan Ayckbourn's career from plays as diverse as Henceforward... to Communicating Doors, Comic Potential to Body Language.
And as his latest work is about to be unveiled, it's interesting to note that this genre - from an archivist's perspective - is where it also all begins.
What is believed to be the earliest surviving manuscript written by Alan Ayckbourn is called The Season and is held by The Borthwick Institute at the University Of York.
Written no later than 1958, The Season is a rare surviving example of Alan's writing prior to his first professional commission. It is a strange love story set over four scenes and four seasons, which moves from Edwardian England into a post-apocalyptic landscape.
An extract from the first page of Alan Ayckbourn's The Season
Copyright; Alan Ayckbourn
Alan has frequently mentioned he recalls writing approximately nine plays before he was commissioned to write The Square Cat, most of them comedies but "with a couple of exceptions which had been rather morose pieces." The Season falls into the morose category.
Described on its frontispiece as a "drama in four scenes", The Season begins in Spring in Medieval times, before moving through the seasons and time into Edwardian England and then the future.
It follows two characters, The Traveller and The Girl and the relationship which develops between them until the third act when The Girl, now The Woman, is close to death and the world apparently about to be engulfed by an apocalypse.
The final scene sees The Traveller meeting with The Girl, but apparently for the first time, venturing forth into a winter wasteland which has apparently been unseen since the catastrophe. The pair agree to explore the world together and set off into the snow.
Of course, the final scene could all be a pretentious metaphor for death from a 17 year old writer - and the scene alludes to death being like winter - but as the play mentions emerging from vaults into the world, it seems more likely to be a vision of a future after a catastrophe.
What's interesting about the final scene is - from today's perspective - the presumption would be this is a nuclear winter, but when Alan wrote the play, the term had not even been invented and there had been relatively little research into the after-effects of a nuclear war. Science-fiction writers - possibly read by Alan himself - had though explored this territory.
The Season is a fascinating oddity, although it offers no indication of the writer Alan Ayckbourn will become aside from the imagination of the piece. It is of historical significance though not only for being the earliest Ayckbourn play, but also one which shows an interest in a genre which will permeate his work from Standing Room Only (1961) through to The Divide (2015).
Just as The Season finishes post-catastrophe in a strange new world, so his latest work, The Divide, begins post-catastrophe in a world where the sexes are segregated and the world is no longer as it was.
But to discover more about this strange new world, you'll need to see The Divide.

The exclusive semi-staged reading of The Divide takes place at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Sunday 27 September from 3pm - 9.30pm (with three intervals and a supper break). It will feature Alan Ayckbourn's company at the SJT plus special guests. Tickets are priced at £60 (including picnic supper), £30 and £15 and can be booked via www.sjt.uk.com or by calling 01723 370541.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Christmas Vs Mastermind

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Christmas V Mastermind (1962)
Alan Ayckbourn wrote two self-dubbed disastrous family plays for Christmas early in his career. The first was Dad's Tale (1960) and the second, Christmas Vs Mastermind, was written in 1962 whilst Alan was resident writer, director and actor at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.
Copyright: Evening Sentinel
The play was even more badly received than Dad's Tale and Alan Ayckbourn remembers it being a complete disaster, as he once noted in an interview with the play's director and long-time Artistic Director of the venue, Peter Cheeseman.
"It [Christmas V Mastermind] happened to coincide with a winter of record cold. We did not realise then that children’s audiences need most exclusive matinee scheduling and put it on in the evening to audiences of two or three wrapped in blankets with thermos flasks, etc. I can distinctly remember seeing the actors’ breath on stage as we had only rudimentary boilers.”
As the newspaper article above also shows, the play was also beset by other issues including the actress Heather Stoney splashing cleaning fluid into her eye and having to wear an eye-patch during performances.
Christmas V Mastermind is notable for featuring Heather Stoney - who would go on to be Alan's second wife - and marks the only time Alan acted opposite Heather in one of his own plays. She would go on to appear in a number of Alan's world premieres when he returned to the Library Theatre in Scarborough and, later, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
Christmas V Mastermind opened at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, on 26 December 1962 and was directed by Peter Cheeseman. More details about the play can be found here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ayckbourn's Hero's Welcome Opens

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play Hero's Welcome opens tonight at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
This is the playwright's 79th play and the 75th to be premiered in one of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's three venues since it opened 60 years ago. The play is running until 3 October and is running in repertory with the playwright's revival of his classic play Confusions.
Richard Stacey & Terenia Edwards
in Hero's Welcome
Copyright: Tony Bartholomew
The play follows a soldier Murray returning to Hadforth, seventeen years after leaving the now mayor, Alice, at the altar. Despite returning a hero, few of his friends seem particularly happy to see him back.
Murray’s intention of settling down with his new bride threatens to stir up all sorts of old rivalries and resentments. Suddenly the couple, in search of peace, find themselves once more in the firing line.
Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon & Stephen Billington
in Hero's Welcome
Copyright: Tony Bartholomew
Hero's Welcome is directed by Alan Ayckbourn and stars Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Terenia Edwards, Emma Manton and Richard Stacey. The production is designed by Michael Holt with lighting by Jason Taylor.
The Hero's Welcome company, plus special guests, will also present a semi-staged gala reading of Ayckbourn’s epic new work, The Divide. in an exclusive performance as part of the SJT's 60th anniversary celebrations on Sunday 27 September.
Elizabeth Boag & Terenia Edwards in Hero's Welecome
Copyright: Tony Bartholomew
Following its Scarborough premiere, Hero’s Welcome will tour in-the-round with Confusions to the New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme from 6 to 24 October and to The Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere from 3 to 14 November.
Hero's Welcome can be seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until 3 October. Tickets are priced from £10 to £24.50 and available from the Box Office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com.
Richard Stacey, Emma Manton, Terenia Edwards, Stephen
Billington, Russell Dixon & Elizabeth Boag in Hero's Welcome
Copyright: Tony Bartholomew

Friday, September 4, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Standing Room Only

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Standing Room Only (1961)
Standing Room Only was the final play Alan Ayckbourn wrote under his pseudonym Roland Allen (and, bizarrely, is also regarded as the first he wrote as Alan Ayckbourn due to the author's credit on a revival of the play) and is the first of his future-set plays.
Copyright: Daily Telegraph
As the article above, published in the Daily Telegraph on 11 September 1961, also shows, it could have been the first Ayckbourn play to transfer to the West End.
Standing Room Only opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1961 and was quickly optioned by the producer Peter Bridge, who was making a name for himself as a risk-taking producer in London.
The story has always gone that Bridge optioned the play after he saw a glowing review of the play in The Stage newspaper whose headline questioned "Is there a manager to drive this bus to Shaftesbury Avenue?"
Ironically, this was not quite the objective review one might expect of The Stage as it was written and submitted by the production's stage manager Joan Macalpine!
The play was never produced in the West End though, despite numerous re-writes and plans by Peter Bridge for a host of star names to appear in it. It was similarly optioned for television by ITV's Armchair Theatre, but this was also never produced.
The article is notable as it marked the first news story about Alan Ayckbourn in a major newspaper and, theoretically, marked the beginning of his relationship with the West End - even if this particular production came to nothing.
Standing Room Only opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 13 July 1961 and was directed by Stephen Joseph. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Unique Ayckbourn Opportunity

There’s a unique opportunity to see a third Alan Ayckbourn work at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough for its 60th anniversary year.
The Divide is an epic five-part satire of the sexes written for more than thirty voices. A world exclusive semi-staged reading, featuring a cast of 18 from Ayckbourn’s Confusions and Hero’s Welcome plus special guest appearances, takes place on Sunday 27 September.
Alan Ayckbourn says: “I wanted to challenge the director in me to write something that was ‘unstageable’. The Divide could be a radio play, a movie or I’d love to reinvent it as a full production but it’s so big that, as far as I know, this will be a unique one-off, the one occasion anyone will get a chance to see, hear or experience it.
“I’ve written it for younger audiences, it’s less Game of Thrones, more social satire. It’s a dystopian fantasy set in a completely reimagined world where men and women live separately.”
Not so long ago, let it not be forgotten, as decreed by The Preacher, Men and Women lived apart on separate sides of the Divide in segregated isolation. The celebrated novelist Soween Clay-Flin recalls this period in our recent history with dramatised readings based on documents of the period, including her own personal diary as a young girl who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.
The Divide will see the writer and director reunited with actors from previous Stephen Joseph Theatre productions. Heather Stoney (Lady Ayckbourn), whose last Ayckbourn role was in the 1985 premiere of Woman In Mind, appears in the mature role of lead character Soween Clay-Flin, also played by Terenia Edwards from the upcoming world premiere of Hero’s Welcome and young actress Velvet Hebditch.
Alan Ayckbourn with Heather Stoney, Terenia Edwards & Velvet Hebditch
Copyright: James Drawneek
Liza Goddard (If I Were You, Communicating Doors), Alexandra Mathie (House & Garden, Neighbourhood Watch), Laura Doddington (Improbable Fiction, Surprises) and Paul Kemp (Private Fears In Public Places, My Wonderful Day) are among the 18 guest actors who will be performing.
The gala reading will support the commissioning and production of new work at the theatre. It can be seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Sunday 27 September from 3pm to approximately 9.30pm and will include three intervals and a supper break.
Tickets, priced from £15 to £60 (£60 includes picnic supper – limited availability), are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com.

Archiving Ayckbourn: Dad's Tale

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Dad's Tale (1960)
Dad's Tale was the first of two family plays for Christmas written by Alan Ayckbourn, both of which he considers - and the term is not used lightly - disasters. Indeed after the second, Christmas Vs Mastermind, was produced in 1964, Alan would not write another family play until 1988 - at which point he discovered he was slightly better at it than he had once believed.
Copyright: The Stage
Although The Stage newspaper did publish cursory reviews of Alan Ayckbourn's first two plays, The Square Cat and Love After All, in 1959, Dad's Tale marked the first substantive review of an Ayckbourn play by the industry newspaper.
Given the complete lack of success - particularly financially - for the production at the Library Theatre in Scarborough, it's interesting to note how positive this review was. Plausibly it might have had an effect on ticket sales, had it not been published on 5 January 1961, five days after the production had closed.
The review also mentions the collaboration between the Library Theatre and the British Dance Drama Theatre, something Alan was not aware until after he had accepted the commission to write the play (and having no experience whatsoever of incorporating ballet into a play!). Famously the two companies only came together for the dress rehearsal which points to considerable ingenuity on the part of Alan in making the play and the collaboration work.
It is also worth noting the attention drawn to the ongoing discussion about the future of the Library Theatre in Scarborough and its apparently fragile existence. Indeed this is only five years from when Stephen Joseph - despairing of the lack of support from the Library and Town Council - closed the venue in 1965; it was re-opened two years later but without Stephen's involvement who died that same year.
Dad's Tale opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 19 December 1960 and was directed by Clifford Williams. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Love After All

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Love After All (1959)
Love After All was Alan Ayckbourn's second play, commissioned following the success of his first The Square Cat. Like its predecessor, Love After All was intended as a showcase for Alan as an actor but unfortunately he was called up for what turned out to be a very short National Service and he did not perform in the original production; he did appear in what he regards as a unsatisfactory revival the following summer though.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
As mentioned, there were two productions of Love After All: the world premiere which opened in December 1959 and a revival which opened on 30 June 1960. Very little is known about Love After All as a whole - the only extant play script was discovered in 2007 - but its two productions are intriguing.
The rarely seen photos above show the company of the original production (top) and the revival (bottom) highlighting just how different the plays were.
The original production, directed by Clifford Williams, was a farce set in an Edwardian household which culminated in a number of characters in disguise as 'Punjabi Indians'. The central character in the photo, the miser Scrimes, was played by David Campton around whom all the deceptions revolve.
When the play was revived in 1960 - now with Alan Ayckbourn as the hero of the piece having rejoined the company - the new director Julian Herington decided he didn't like the period setting, the names of the characters or several plot points. By all accounts it was a substantially different play.
The lower photo shows the company in character with the plot transposed to the modern day. David Campton, now playing the miser Walter Bagwell, can be seen front row far left. Alan Ayckbourn is front row, second from the right.
As can be seen - in what looks like a somewhat dubious decision - the disguises have now, for reasons Alan Ayckbourn was never sure of, been changed to Chinese and an extra character was introduced (sadly as no script exists for the revival, it's unknown what role he played in the production).
Alan Ayckbourn later said of the revival: "It was later revived, the following summer I think, with me playing the lead; and it was directed by Julian Herington, who decided there were certain bits of it he didn't like very much, like its Edwardianness, and its rather jokey names. He brought it up to date, and I don't think the play actually gained from what we did to it.”
The director is also notorious as he spent the entire season's budget on just his two productions (Love After All and Wuthering Heights); he never worked at the Library Theatre again.
Love After All opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 21 December 1959 and was directed by Clifford Williams. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: The Square Cat

Welcome to a new regular feature on the blog presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through each play highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

The Square Cat (1959)
We begin - obviously - with Alan Ayckbourn's first play, The Square Cat, written when Alan was 19 years old alongside his then partner - later - wife, Christine Roland. The play was attributed to Roland Allen, both to acknowledge Christine's input (Christine Roland, Alan Ayckbourn) but also because Alan himself took the lead role in the play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This is the first page of The Square Cat complete with Alan Ayckbourn's hand-written notes and alterations. The original manuscript contains a substantial amount of alterations, suggesting the play went through many revisions during the rehearsal process.
The excisions from the play as originally written whilst mainly tightening up the script and clarifying plot points also include occasionally significant cuts which would have altered the play. The most significant of these can be seen at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here, where the character of the mother loses the strong edge for which the playwright is well known for writing into his female characters; suggesting whilst he did not have the confidence to include it in his first play, the desire to write strong female characters was a very early trait for Alan Ayckbourn.
This page though offers an insight into, arguably, one of the most significant moments in Alan Ayckbourn's theatrical career. The first minutes of his first professionally performed play script, which would lead to a then unimaginably successful career as playwright.
The Square Cat opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 31 July 1959 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn's most influential mentor, Stephen Joseph. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn gets a Hero's Welcome at the SJT

There’s a Hero’s Welcome for Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play which premieres at the Stephen Joseph Theatre next month.
In its 60th anniversary year, the theatre stages the 79th play from the author which can be seen in Scarborough from 4 September to 3 October before a UK in the round tour.
The Hero's Welcome company
Copyright: Jordan Lonsdale
Seventeen years ago, Murray fled the neighbourhood under somewhat of a cloud and certain local folk have long memories, not least Alice, the mayor, whom he left standing at the altar. Once the welcome flags have stopped waving and the town band has ceased playing, few of his friends seem particularly happy to see him back.
Murray’s declared intention of staying put and settling down with his new bride threatens to stir up all sorts of old rivalries and resentments. Suddenly the couple, in search of peace, find themselves once more in the firing line.
Alan Ayckbourn says: “Hero’s Welcome is about the prodigal son, Murray, coming back to his home town. He’s a squaddie who has got all the good qualities that I like although he got trapped in his early days by the machinations of sexual politics and ran away at the altar. It explores the male rivalry between Murray and an old friend, Brad, who is fiercely competitive and will go to any lengths to win."
Hero’s Welcome is one of three Ayckbourn works being performed at the SJT this year. The playwright’s first major revival of his 1974 comedy Confusions opened in July and will run in rep with this latest premiere until 26 September.
The Hero's Welcome company, plus special guests, will also present a semi-staged gala reading of Ayckbourn’s epic new work, The Divide. This five-part satire of the sexes, written for more than 30 voices, will be performed at the SJT on Sunday 27 September exclusively for the 60th anniversary year.
For Hero's Welcome, actor Terenia Edwards joins the Confusions company in her first professional stage role since graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama in June. She plays Murray’s new bride, Baba. Richard Stacey takes on the returning war hero Murray (Arrivals & Departures, Surprises - SJT), Stephen Billington is best friend Brad (Coronation Street, Hollyoaks, Braveheart), Emma Manton (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won - Royal Shakespeare Company; The Office) plays Kara, wife of Brad, and daughter Simone. Elizabeth Boag (Arrivals & Departures, Farcicals - SJT ) appears as the mayor, Alice, with Russell Dixon (Roundelay, Time of My Life, A Chorus of Disapproval - SJT) as Derek, her model-train-obsessed husband.
The production is directed by Alan Ayckbourn and designed by Michael Holt with lighting by Jason Taylor.
Following its Scarborough premiere, Hero’s Welcome will tour in the round with Confusions to the New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme from 6 to 24 October and to The Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere from 3 to 14 November.
Tickets to Hero’s Welcome and Confusions, priced from £10 to £24.50, and tickets to The Divide, from £15, are available from the Box Office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Confusions

Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic 1974 play Confusions is currently in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
To mark the popular revival, the blog has unearthed 10 facts you probably didn't know about the play.
Confusions is in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 26 September and further information and booking information can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Confusions
1) Contrary to practically all reports, all five of the Confusions plays are linked. In Mother Figure, Lucy is married to Harry, who we see trying to call her. Harry is the businessman who appears in Drinking Companion and who is served drinks by a waiter. This is the same waiter who appears in Between Mouthfuls (at presumably the same hotel), who serves Mrs Pearce and her husband. Mrs Pearce appears in Gosforth's Fete and mention is also made of her husband. In the final play, A Talk In The Park, the most subtle and easily missed connection is that Doreen is the former wife of Gosforth, who Milly mentions in Gosforth's Fete. Doreen talks about her former husband being a landlord, which is a subtle reference to Gosforth.

2) The origin of Confusions lays in another play entirely. Mother Figure was originally written for an evening of short plays by different authors called Mixed Blessings (a follow up to the well-known Mixed Doubles, to which Alan also contributed). However, Mixed Blessings had just one week of performances in Horsham and Alan took back Mother Figure to use as the first play in Confusions.

3) The earliest known notes relating to Confusions show it was originally intended to feature six plays. The plays (except Mother Figure) did not have proper titles but were described as: Bride & Groom - Discovery; Marriage Breaker - Reunion & Interrogation; Mother Figure; Man Whose Wife Leaves Him; Reversals (I); Reversals (II).

4) The inspiration behind Between Mouthfuls was Alan Ayckbourn's only produced - and little seen - screenplay Service Not Included. Broadcast at 11pm on 20 May 1974 on BBC1, it is a half hour piece which follows a waiter in a hotel during an end of conference party. Everything is seen through his eyes and we only get snippets of conversation from the guests. Alan refined the idea for Between Mouthfuls in which we only hear what the Waiter hears as he moves between two restaurant tables.

5) Gosforth's Fete was inspired by Alan's experience of civic events during the early 1970s - one suspects when a guest of the Mayor during Scarborough Cricket Festival. The frequency of things not going to plan inspiring the chaos that permeates Gosforth's Fete.

6) It is the only play written by Alan Ayckbourn which was conceived to be performed in-the-round, three-sided and end-stage. The play relaunched touring from the Library Theatre in Scarborough and the tour visited Scarborough (three-sided), Whitby (proscenium arch / end-stage) and Filey (in-the-round). As a result, the set had to be very simple, practical and be able to fit in the back of a van!

7) It was initially hoped the Eric Thompson (father of the actress Emma Thompson) would direct the West End premiere of Confusions - having directed the West End productions of Time & Time Again, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and Absent Friends). However his recent experiences directing the flop musical Jeeves by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber and his busy schedule meant Alan Strachan - a now notable director of Alan's plays - directed the production.

8) Despite being written as an ensemble piece, the West End production of Confusions was star led with the husband and wife team of Pauline Collins and John Alderton. The latter cherry-picking all the best roles (Harry, the Waiter and Gosforth) thus losing the links between the plays and the ensemble feel. When he broke his ankle during the run, he performed one evening in a wheelchair and also with his foot in a cast subsequently.

9) Confusions has had more radio productions than any other Ayckbourn play - and yet has never been broadcast in its entirety. In 1979, Mother Figure was broadcast; in 1985, Mother Figure, Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth's Fete; In 1986, Mother Figure, Between Mouthfuls, Gosforth's Fete and A Talk In The Park; in 1988, just Gosforth's Fete. All were different recordings with different casts. Mother Figure and Gosforth's Fete have both been adapted for the radio more times than any other Alan Ayckbourn play with three productions.

10) In a report produced by the licensing agents Samuel French in 2013, Confusions was named the most produced Ayckbourn play by amateur companies.

You can find out more about Confusions at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.
Confusions is in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 26 September and further information and booking information can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Confusions & Hero's Welcome To Tour

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play as well as his acclaimed revival of a classic play are to tour later this year.
The world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Hero's Welcome and the revival of his 1974 classic Confusions, both directed by Alan Ayckbourn and featuring the Stephen Joseph Theatre company, will visit two in-the-round venues.
The plays will be performed in repertory at the New Vic Theatre from 6 - 24 October and at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, from 3 - 14 November.
This follows their runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre where Confusions is running until 26 September and where the world premiere of Hero's Welcome runs between 4 September - 3 October.
The two plays have also been confirmed as touring to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from 13 - 23 January, 2016, directed for the end-stage by Alan Ayckbourn.
Further details can be found at the SJT, the New Vic, The Old Laundry and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre websites.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Birthday SJT & Personal Ayckbourn favourites

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, which Alan Ayckbourn has been associated with for the past 58 years.
All but four of his plays have premiered at the Scarborough theatre in its three homes and he was Artistic Director between 1972 and 2009. Its founder, Stephen Joseph, is also Alan Ayckbourn's most influential and important mentor.
It is also the theatre where I saw my first Ayckbourn play in 1987 with Henceforward... and which has had a huge impact on my life ever since from journalist to Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist today.
To mark the 60th anniversary and the huge impact the SJT has had on my life, I've chosen 10 of my favourite Ayckbourn productions since my first n 1987. You can read about my other top ten SJT plays at the Scarborough In The Round blog here.
So here's a personal list of some of my favourite Ayckbourn memories at the SJT since 1987. Happy birthday Stephen Joseph Theatre!

A Personal List Of Favourite Ayckbourn Productions (1987 - present)
1) Henceforward... (1987): This is what all comes back to, my first Ayckbourn play. The world premiere production, directed by Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in The Round, launching a life-long obsession with the playwright (and which eventually brought gainful employment rather than a restraining order). To a 16 year old geek, this was proof that theatre could easily match cinema and prose: a nihilistic, sci-fi set in a dystopian future, utilising the latest technology (strange to think sampling was once hi-tech) in which, essentially, everyone dies (logically no-one survives the aftermath of the play). It was also tremendously funny and well acted. I still remember walking home and 10 minutes in turning to thinking, "I can't believe what I was just laughing at." My first experience of Ayckbourn tragi-comedy at some of its finest.

2) Haunting Julia (1994): Haunting Julia has long been one of my favourite Ayckbourn plays, even though it's a lesser known one. Partly because it's one of the playwright's few works to be set in Yorkshire and featuring a distinctly Yorkshire lead (Joe, harking from Otley near to where I was born). But I think mainly because it is a play with just three men but in which three women who are never seen are beautfilly drawn and have a huge precense (literally in one case) in the play. It's portrayal of the relationship between a father and daughter is also hugely affecting and the play unfolds tremendously well. Layers reveal layers as we begin to appreciate the tragedy of what happened to Julia and her inevitable 'return'. The moment at the climax where the bed began to bleed (alongside a chill-inducing performance in the original by Ian Hogg) is an image which I've never forgotten.

3) Just Between Ourselves (1996): I was relatively late in appreciating what many people consider Alan Ayckbourn's classic early plays (I only really understood just how good The Norman Conquests was following the Old Vic's 2008 revival) and this production, directed by Robin Herford, made me realise just how amazing the early plays were. It probably also stands as one of the bleakest Ayckbourn productions I've ever seen with the final image of the comatose Vera being sung Happy Birthday extraordiarily affecting (particularly as we, the audience, have been complicit in laughing at her earlier in the play). The splendid tea-making scene was directed and played so well that it actually became painful laughing. The final production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was also one of the most memorable to me.

4) By Jeeves (1996): And the first at the new Stephen Joseph Theatre was equally memorable but for entirely different reasons. From the tragicomic pain of Just Between Ourselves, we moved to the inspired lunacy of Ayckbourn meeting Wodehouse with this delightfully silly musical which was the perfect way to open the new home of the company. Perfectly cast (has there been a better stage interpretation of Jeeves than Malcolm Sinclair?), this was a jubilant production celebrating a key moment in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

5) House & Garden (1999): The final play I reviewed for the Scarborough Evening News - and possibly a good thing as what could top it? Practically every major critic of the period attended the production (I suspect the last time the SJT ever managed to attract so many first tier critics for a premiere) for this mind-bending production in which two plays are performed simultaneously in two different auditoria with the same cast. As an actor leaves the 'house' they re-appeared on another stage in the 'garden' and vice versa. Alan has always been a fan of event theatre - those moments when live theatre does something no other medium can - and this was truly an event and showed the SJT at its best and most ambitious. A wonderful memory.

6) Damsels In Distress (2001): Another slight cheat (after all House & Garden were two plays and Damsels In Distress is three), but it's hard to separate the Damsels trilogy from one another. Seen separately, GamePlan, FlatSpin and RolePlay are all excellent plays but seen together (as the SJT did on occasions during the original run with all three plays in on day), you got a chance to appreciate the skills of the actors and the cleverness of the writing and thematic links between the plays. RolePlay still stands out as the star of the trilogy but Alison Pargeter and Saskia Butler in GamePlan were a revelation, a superbly funny double act as school girls well out of their depth. Damsels was always rumoured to have been created out of a need to save money for the SJT (three plays, one set, one company of seven actors) and it demonstrated just how creative and inventive the SJT could be when its back was against the wall.

7) My Sister Sadie (2003): I've always been a big fan of Alan Ayckbourn;'s family plays and Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays is one of the great plays for young people. But my personal favourite is his penultimate - as of writing - family play, My Sister Sadie. Essentially a companion piece to Comic Potential, it deals with a the hunt for a military android which is more than it seems and is adopted by a rural family suffering the loss of their daughter. Its themes would be ambitious for an adult play - morality, family loss, what makes us human, the use and abuse of technology - but that they are packed into a fast-moving family play shows Ayckbourn at the top of his game. Packed full of film references from The Terminator to Blade Runner to, this is a sadly under-appreciated Ayckbourn work that deserves more recognition. It also featured an exceptional lighting design by Kath Geraghty.

8) Private Fears In Public Places (2004): One of my all-time favourite Ayckbourn plays, Private Fears In Public Places looked at what it is to be a 30-something in the city in the new millennium. A play of tremendous sadness and loneliness, it also had a wicked sense of humour with unexpected twists and turns. Its structure of 54 scenes played without an interval showed Alan Ayckbourn still pushing himself in new directions thematically and technically. It also arguably has the best filmed adaptation of an Ayckbourn play with Alain Resnais's excellent film adaptation. It's also the only Ayckbourn play I've seen directed by someone other than Ayckbourn and matching the power of the original with Laurie Sansom's extraordinary 2009 production at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton. An excellent amateur production - recently seen by the playwright himself - is also currently touring by Huddersfield's Dick & Lottie.

9) My Wonderful Day (2009): It's always difficult to imagine certain plays being produced again when the original has had a definitive performance - Janie Dees performance as Jacie in Comic Potential being one. My Wonderful Day's original production had an extraordinary and utterly convincing performance by 28 year old Ayesha Antoine as 11 year old Winnie and her experiences of a very unusual day. That is not is not to say she dominated the play, as always in Ayckbourn plays it is an ensemble cast that makes the play work, but Winnie who is never off-stage and through whose eyes we see the play is an extraordinary character even when she is the unspeaking, unnoticed (by the characters at least) third person in the room. An exceptional production at the SJT.

10) Arrivals & Departures (2013): It's extremely difficult picking just 10 Ayckbourn productions at the SJT of note over the past 28 years, but this is recent play is a deserving addition. Another fine example of Ayckbourn experimenting with structure and preconceptions; it starts as one play (almost a farce) and becomes something else entirely before performing an audacious trick at the start of the second half by repeating what we've already seen but from a slightly different perspective. The play ends with what is nothing less than punch to the gut and is one of the saddest and affecting conclusions to a play yet written by Ayckbourn. That within two hours we can go from farce to tragedy without questioning it and come to know two characters who, sadly, never come to know each other despite spending the play together is a testament not only to a great play but a great writer constantly trying to push himself and his plays in new directions.

Honorable mentions must also go to: The Revengers' Comedies (1989); Wildest Dreams (1991); Things We Do For Love (1997); Comic Potential (1998); Orvin - Champion Of Champions (2003); The Champion Of Paribanou (2005); Intimate Exchanges (2006); How The Other Half Loves (2009); Dear Uncle (2011); Absurd Person Singular (2012).

For my list of non-Ayckbourn plays at the SJT, visit the Scarborough In The Round blog here.

Simon Murgatroyd is Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist and the creator and administrator of his official website www.alanayckbourn.net. He is also the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Archivist and runs the website Scarborough In The Round at www.theatre-in-the-round.co.uk.