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.