There's a Hero's Welcome in New York at the moment as Alan Ayckbourn and the Stephen Joseph Theatre company return to the 59E59 Theaters for the sixth time.
Last week saw the Scarborough company returning to what can now well be considered its New York home, for a five week residency at the Brits Off Broadway festival. The festival will see the North American premiere of Hero's Welcome with the same company appearing in the New York premiere of the classic 1974 play Confusions.
|Alan Ayckbourn & The company: (top, l to r) Russell Dixon,|
Richard Stacey, Stephen Billington & Charlotte Harwood with
(bottom, l to r) Evelyn Hoskins, Alan Ayckbourn & Elizabeth Boag.
Copyright: 59E59 Theaters
Yet prior to 2005, Alan’s plays had had very little impact in New York and truth be told, it had been more than thirty years since his one bona fide Broadway hit.
In 1974, Absurd Person Singular opened in New York at the Music Box Theatre, directed by the London production’s director Eric Thompson, and would go on to break the record for the longest running comedy on Broadway by a British playwright.
Theoretically, the floodgates should have opened with this leading to even more success, in the same way Absurd Person Singular led to success upon success in the West End.
But it didn’t. The Norman Conquests performed unexceptionally on Broadway in 1975 and although there were subsequent successful Ayckbourn productions in New York such as the National Theatre’s tour of Bedroom Farce in 1979 and The Old Vic’s transfer of The Norman Conquests in 2009, most failed to have any major or lasting impact.
So there was no reason to believe that touring his most recent play from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to a small off-Broadway festival in 2005 was going to make any sort of waves.
Yet when Private Fears In Public Places opened at the Brits Off Broadway festival, it was met with some of the most extraordinary reviews of the playwright’s career, including an astonishing critique from the New York Times, which amongst many plaudits spotlighted the “first-rate, frill-free acting” of Alan’s company.
Box office records at the 59E59 Theaters were broken and Alan noted, ”Seats were at a premium. The little box office wasn’t used to the lines around the block.” 
The company of six actors were compared to many of the Broadway heavyweights and at the end of the year the production featured in a host of top ten theatre lists including the New York Times and Times magazine. The production also garnered an Outstanding Director nomination at the Drama Desk Awards.
For Alan, it was an unexpected and extraordinary response to the play.
“It was a sort of vindication, like a life’s work unwasted. You slog away doing what you hope is good work up in the north-east but you never really know. But to be put up against that level of competition, in that sort of cauldron of critical mayhem which I have experienced over time... In New York the knives are very long indeed when they’re long. If you’ve got a failure in New York, try to get the firtst plane out.
“I wasn’t prepared for anything like the response.” 
The success of Private Fears In Public Places was not only a surprise to Alan though, the 59E59 itself was stunned by its success. The venue's President and Artistic Director Elysabeth Kleinhans was both delighted and surprised by just how much enthusiasm greeted the production.
"When I first met Sir Alan in 2004 and we agreed that the Stephen Joseph Theatre would participate in our Festival, I had no idea that we were building such a wonderful and lasting relationship. The success of Private Fears in Public Places in 2005 was, in hindsight, inevitable, but prospectively, none of us expected the response we had. Our theater had only been open a bit more than a year and we were completely surprised on the morning of the New York Times review to find a line outside the door prior to the box office opening." 
The success of Private Fears In Public Places made a return visit to the Brits Off Broadway festival practically inevitable and Alan had already mentioned he was keen on returning in a couple of years time.
What wasn’t inevitable was that less than a year after returning to work from his stroke in 2006, he would take one of his most challenging and ambitious works across the Atlantic.
His revival of Intimate Exchanges was an epic experience for any venue; two actors playing 10 roles in a branching play with 16 possible permutations and more than 30 hours of dialogue in total.
This play was taken over to New York in its entirety. The complexity of the play posed a challenge for 59E59 Theaters and a few pleasant surprises. When interviewed about the production, Elysabeth Kleinhans noted how initially packages to see the different permutations were not offered and had to be created due to public demand.
“Who’s going to see all those plays in five weeks,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, right? I’m an optimist, but I never expected this.” 
Reviews again proved to be extremely favorable and it received Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Play and for Outstanding Actor for Bill Champion. Time Magazine once again naming it as one of the top ten productions of the year.
Alan Ayckbourn’s plays were finally getting the recognition they deserved on the New York stage aided, it was regularly observed, by the quality of Alan’s acting company.
For Alan, the festival also finally meant being able to visit New York on his own terms. One of the appeals of the 59E59 to him is the small scale of the venue and the fact the festival welcomes his production with his company.
“It’s the sort of theater I recognize and am happy with,” noted Alan in 2009. “I would be far less happy a few blocks down in a big Broadway theater. As unhappy as I would be in London on the West End.”
2009 brought with it the third visit to the festival, following in the wake of the high profile transfer of The Old Vic’s acclaimed 2008 production of The Norman Conquests to the Circle In The Square theatre. This was arguably the most successful Broadway Ayckbourn production since Absurd Person Singular and was showered with major awards including the first Tony award for an Ayckbourn play.
In direct contrast to the large three-play scale and fame of The Norman Conquests, Alan brought his latest, understated play to Brits Off Broadway with My Wonderful Day. This day observed through the eyes of a mostly silent nine year old schoolgirl was again tremendously successful, receiving excellent reviews and garnering Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actress for 28 year old Ayesha Antoine’s performance as nine year old Winnie.
Two years later, Alan Ayckbourn returned to Brits Off Broadway with his latest play, Neighbourhood Watch, which over the course of a year had runs in Scarborough, New York and London as well as throughout the UK. It was also the year Alan emphasised why the visits to the 59E59 and New York had become so significant to him.
“We take a show from Scarborough to New York with the same company and the same production and it gets fantastic reviews. When we there with My Wonderful Day in 2009, people were screaming out of their minds with praise and that is good for Scarborough and the theatre. It gives the company, not to say me, a little shot in the arm occasionally.”
There is no doubt the success of Alan’s productions at the festival have been instrumental in increasing the awareness and appreciation of his plays in New York and the USA. It’s also hard not to believe too that their success was not also a key part in the decision to award Alan the prestigious Special Tony Award For Lifetime Achievement in Theatre in 2010.
After a three year break, the most ambitious visit yet took place in 2014 with a season called the Ayckbourn Ensemble which featured the world premiere productions of Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals as well as a revival of Time Of My Life. The response again was overwhelming with both new and classic plays receiving praise from critics and audiences alike.
Now all eyes are on the 59E59 Theaters to see whether Hero's Welcome and Confusions will follow in the same successful steps as their predecessors. It seems very likely given the extraordinary response and welcome New York audiences have given the company in the past.
Although one suspects to Alan, this is far less important than the opportunity the Brits Off Broadway offers to present his work on the New York stage as he intends it to be seen with the spotlight thrown on the play and his actors and the quality of their work.
Hero's Welcome and Confusions can be seen at the 59E59 Theaters until 3 July. Visit www.britsoffbroadway.com for more details.
 Interview with Louise Jury, 6 January 2006, The Independent
 Interview with Simon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website, October 2011
 Interview with Mark Blakenship, 27 May 2007, New York Times
 Interview with David Cote, 18 November 2009, Time Out
 Interview with Simon Murgatroyd, June 2011