Thursday, January 15, 2015

Roundelay On Tour

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play Roundelay embarks on a short tour next week.
Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn, Roundelay consists of five related plays, the order of which is randomly determined by the audience each night giving 120 possible permutations of the play.
Nigel Hastings & Krystle Hilton in Roundelay
Copyright: Tony Bartholomew
As a result, the order of the plays offers a different perspective of the characters and events as the playwright notes: "The plays are very different styles. One borders on the gothic horror and they go through to pure farce. One or two are quite sad ones. One that’s particularly lump in throat. I just wonder what that mix [of the plays] will do. It’s like opening a big box of chocolates and starting with the caramel and then crunching through to the coffee cream."
The production features Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Nigel Hastings, Krystle Hilton, Brooke Kinsella, Richard Stacey, Sarah Stanley and Leigh Symonds. Direction is by Alan Ayckbourn with design by Michael Holt and lighting by Jason Taylor.
The tour - which is presented by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford - consists of the following venues:

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford: 21 - 31 January
Theatre Royal, Bath: 2 - & February
Cambridge Arts Theatre: 9 - 14 February
Everyman Theatre, Chelthenham: 24 - 28 February

Further details about the tour can be found online at

You can find out more about Roundelay at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Alain Resnais on Life Of Riley

French film auteur Alain Resnais was a long-time fan and friend of the playwright Alan Ayckbourn and adapted three of his plays into acclaimed films.
The film-maker died in March 2014 and it seems fitting that one year on, his final film, an adaptation of Ayckbourn's Life Of Riley, will be released in UK Cinemas on 6 March.
The blog today offers Resnais's own insight into his film.

Alain Resnais
Copyright: TBC
"Why is the original title Aimer, Boire et Chanter, which has nothing to do with the original title of Alan Ayckbourn’s play, Life of Riley? It’s a question of rhythm. Pink Floyd’s music permeated all through the play. That to me indicated a specific era, the 1960s and 1970s, and I wanted to move away from it. I try hard to give rhythm to the changes of pace in a film, so that the directing is full of contrast: moments when the direction is reserved and academic, and then suddenly there’s a change in tone. Here’s what I dream of: that the viewer in the movie theatre says to himself, “yeah, okay, it’s filmed theatre,” and then suddenly changes his mind: “yes, but in theatre you can’t do that...” And it goes back and forth from theatre to film, and sometimes over to comic strips with Blutch’s input. I’d like to try to achieve what Raymond Queneau called in Saint-Glinglin “la brouchecoutaille,” a sort of ratatouille, by breaking down the walls between film and theatre and thus ending up totally free. I say it for all my films: what interests me is form, and if there’s no form, there’s no emotion. I still get a kick out of bringing together things that shouldn’t meet. It’s that I call the attraction of danger, of the abyss. Keeping constantly in mind the standard answer I give the question, “Why do you make movies?” - “To see how they’re made.” So I naturally fell for Ayckbourn’s theater, which might seem like light comedy, but that’s not at all the case. Just look at the risks he takes with dramatic construction every time. One day he said this, “I try to do cinema with my theatre, and Resnais does theatre for the cinema.”

How did it all begin? I had read in a magazine that the very prolific Mr. Ayckbourn was putting on his plays in the little seaside resort of Scarborough, in a theatre in which the audience itself served as the three walls. Sabine and I went up there as if on a safari deep into an exotic jungle. We saw one play. The actors had to keep in mind the three “walls” of viewers and, as for the audience, it had to take a leap of faith to believe what they couldn’t see. That’s also a good definition of the cinema. From that point on, I told myself, “That’s my man.” We kept returning to Scarborough for four or five years anonymously until one day an actor recognized me during intermission and said, “What are you doing here? The French never come here. There are Japanese, Germans, but not French.” Ayckbourn and I finally met, we had a beer, and I complimented him. He sighed, “Obviously I’m not Chekhov.” I answered, “Well, no, you’re much better than Chekhov." It was an encounter filled with emotion. A few years later I saw Sabine laughing to herself reading a huge Ayckbourn play entitled Intimate Exchanges, which only used two actors to play a multitude of characters, but you had to go to the theatre twelve times to see the entire play! I went to see Ayckbourn to ask him if he’d agree for me to adapt it into what was to become Smoking / No Smoking. He had some forty plays to his credit at the time. He said to me, “I was prepared for anything except for you to pick that one. You’re even crazier than I am.” And I knew from reading an article that he hated people making films from his plays due to the obligations it involved, so I made him a promise: “If I find a producer who’s willing to finance the film, I won’t tell you, I won’t call you, I won’t ask you to read the adaptation, I won’t invite you to dinner. You’ll hear nothing from me until the film is finished and I can show it to you. Then and only then you can decide whether or not you accept paternity.” He lit up. And I’ve kept my promise still today. For Coeurs (the original play is Private Fears in Public Places) as well.

The big problem posed in adapting Life of Riley was this: how can a movie audience understand that there are four gardens that do not touch each other? I thus used Blutch’s drawings, photographs of Yorkshire, with a few road shots so that people would understand that the gardens were sometimes as much as twenty kilometres apart. Hopefully, by mixing these three elements that don’t go together – Blutch drawings don’t resemble Jacques Saulnier’s sets, which don’t look at all like the roads of Yorkshire - the audience grasps the notion of distance. I wanted freedom in making the film. Laurent Herbiet and I worked in a very special way. Herbiet is a magician at the computer. Hardly had I spoken a sentence than it was in the machine. Sometimes he had even typed what I would say before I said it. We thus took the original play and storyboarded it right away. For this phase of the work, I use little plastic figurines that represent the actors and move them around. They are often film characters brought back from my travels. I like them to be as anonymous as possible. It helps me a lot, I can do the breakdown at the same time as Herbiet suggests shortcuts and links between sequences. I made Ayckbourn laugh one day by saying to him, “I’m against cuts, but I’m for contractions.” Jean-Marie Besset, whose work as an adapter and author I knew and admired, then took care of the translation and worked on the already breakdown English version.

Aimer, Boire et Chanter”? You take three normal couples, or what you’d call normal, whether they’re very happy or very miserable. All it takes is a single event to perturb them, the arrival of George, and everything becomes hysterical. Yes, it’s funny, but there are nevertheless moments when the shadow of death passes, to light music. Something fairly rare happened with this film: when it was finished, the editor, Hervé De Luze, and myself noticed that what we call the offcut bin - the place we throw offcuts into, the deleted scenes - was empty. Nothing had been cut, everything had been shot. Yes, you can say it, we left no trash! It’s true that there were a lot of sequence shots, scenes filmed in continuity. The actors were amazing, in fact. They’d get together and rehearse of their own accord outside the shooting schedule. That saved a huge amount of time.
What makes it still cinema, even though we used all sorts of theatrical artifices, down to replacing doors by painted backdrops that could be pulled aside? That’s a real mystery. Of course, even if it worked in the film’s favour, there was the issue of saving money. My approach was reinforced by taking a big leap back in time to Sacha Pitoëff and his wife. Every time they’d put on a play at the Théâtre des Mathurins, they were short of funds for the sets. They’d use old curtains and borrow old carpets and that way managed to suggest sumptuous interiors. I told Jacques Saulnier about that, saying, “If Sacha Pitoëff did it, you can do it too.” He made a feeble protest, saying “Yes, but in the movies...” I said, “Well, we’re going to try it.”"

Life Of Riley is being distributedin the UK by Eureka! Entertainment and will be released to select cinemas on 6 March.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Five Most Popular FAQs

Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website receives a constant stream of enquiries about the playwrights and his plays, but some questions do crop up a bit more frequently than the rest.
Today, the blog looks at the top five queries to the website.

1) How do I pronounce Ayckbourn?
Ayckbourn is pronounced Ache-born (Ache rhyming with wake).

2) When and where was Alan Ayckbourn born?
Alan Ayckbourn was born on 12 April 1939 in Hampstead in London

3) Is Alan Ayckbourn the second most performed playwright in the UK / World after Shakespeare?
No. And if anyone says differently, ask them to provide empirical evidence to prove it. The issue is explored in depth here.

4) How many plays has Alan Ayckbourn written?
As of January 2015, Alan Ayckbourn has written 79 full length plays. The 79th and latest, Hero's Welcome, will premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in September 2015.
In addition, Alan Ayckbourn has also written 11 revues, 4 one-act plays, 2 plays for performance by young people, 2 plays for pre-school children, 5 adaptations of work by other authors, 1 screenplay and 1book.

5) Will Alan Ayckbourn read / advise on my play-scripts?
Alan Ayckbourn no longer accepts script submissions. Whilst Artistic Director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, he spent 37 years reading and evaluating scripts (and five years at the BBC between 1965 and 1970 doing the same) as well as advising writers. With his retirement as Artistic Director in 2009, he felt it was time to pass the torch onto others so that he could understandably concentrate completely on his own writing and directing for the first time.
With regard to advice to writers and directors, he sincerely feels that everything he has to say on the subject can be found in his book The Crafty Art Of Playmaking (Faber, 2002) which is available via the website shop and many libraries.

Actually, there is another frequently asked question but we answered that last month (click here to read) to all the enquiries about the television adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn's plays being available to buy.

You can contact Alan Ayckbourn's website at with your Ayckbourn related questions via the Contact page.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Stage 100 & 2014 Round-Up

As reported in yesterday's news round-up, Alan Ayckbourn was named in this year's 100 most influential figures in the UK theatre over 2014.
The Stage 100 is compiled annually by The Stage newspaper and Alan has been featured in the list many times over the years.
This year he was placed at 73rd position with the round-up: "British theatre's hardest working playwright keeps on going. In 2014, Ayckbourn's 78th play, Roundelay, premiered in Scarborough, where his musical, The Boy Who Fell Into A Book, also played. Arrivals & Departures also toured the UK, while the National Theatre produced a revival of A Small Family Business."
Alan was also placed fifth in The Stage's Top 5 Composers / Writers after Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alain Boubil & Claude-Michel Schoenberg, David Hare and Richard Bean.
2014 proved to be a busy year for all the playwright and in addition to The Stage's list of achievements, here's the blog's thoughts on some of the other Ayckbourn highlights of 2014.

> Arrivals & Departures touring to New York alongside Alan's revival of Time Of My Life and the new one act plays Farcicals. Performed at the 59E59 Theaters during the Brits Off Broadway festival, the productions received excellent reviews and Arrivals & Departures was named in Time magazine's Top 10 Shows of 2014.
> A Small Family Business became the first Ayckbourn play to be streamed live to cinemas around the world. Presented as part of the NT Live programme, the production arguably instantly became one of the most viewed Ayckbourn shows ever! It also meant his home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, was able to see A Small Family Business for the first time as the play is just one of four not to have been premiered in the town.
> The film adaptation of his play Life Of Riley - Aimer, Boire et Chanter - was released, but tempered by the fact that soon afterwards it director, the auteur and Alan's friend Alain Resnais died. Resnais had previously also adapted Intimate Exchanges and Private Fears In Public Places and Alan regard's Resnais's films as the finest screen adaptations of his work.
> Theatre Royal Bath staged a long overdue and well-received revival of Alan's 1998 play Things We Do For Love with Laurence Boswell directing an acclaimed ensemble.
> 2014 also marked the 50th anniversary of Alan's first West End production when Mr Whatnot opened at the New Arts Theatre in 1964.
> BBC Radio 4's Front Row dedicated its Christmas Day special to Alan, which was a nice surprise to end the year.

Let's hope 2015 is as busy and successful a year for Alan Ayckbourn!