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.