Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stephen Joseph Theatre retains NPO status & gains capital funding

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre - where Alan Ayckbourn has premiered practically all his work since 1959 - has successfully retained its status as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation for another four years.
The theatre’s Development Trust has also been offered a one-off grant by ACE for various necessary upgrades.
NPOs are the organisations which receive regular annual funding from ACE, and are seen as representing some of the best arts practice in the world. For the four financial years from 2018 to 2022, the Stephen Joseph Theatre will receive annual funding of £637,715 a year, the same amount it received each financial year from 2015 to 2018.
The one-off capital grant of £419,122 is a large part of an overall capital project of £561,000 for developments to the front of house areas, including better access via an improved passenger lift and wheelchair platform; a new, environmentally-friendly LED lighting system in the Round, which will lower the venue’s energy bills; and various smaller projects.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Chief Executive, Stephen Freeman, says: “The retention of our NPO status is brilliant news, and real recognition of our vision and of the theatre’s vital role within the communities of Scarborough and Yorkshire.
“The capital grant will enable us to enhance our customer experience enormously. The Stephen Joseph Theatre has been in its current venue for 21 years now, and we’re very aware that it needs some refurbishment. We want to provide a 21st century theatre-going experience for audiences both new and existing. Our ongoing vision will be to complement the unique period features of this building whilst looking to the future.”
Stephen added that the theatre’s Development Trust will shortly be launching a fund-raising campaign to secure the necessary match-funding for the capital project.
“We’d welcome discussions with anyone locally who has ideas or thoughts on ways to reach our target,” he said.
Richard Grunwell, chair of the Stephen Joseph Theatre board, says: “We’re absolutely delighted with today’s news. We have a wonderful summer of entertainment coming up, followed by an equally exciting 2017/18 winter season. This validation of the Stephen Joseph Theatre as a world-class organisation will enable us to create even more exciting work in 2018 and beyond.
“I’d like to thank our committed and hard-working team, our strong network of supporters, and our wonderful and loyal audiences.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

News & Listings: 26 June 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 1 July: House & Garden at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury
Until 12 October (rep): Absurd Person Singular at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
8 - 20 August: The Divide at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)

News Round Up:
> Casting has been announced for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of By Jeeves at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere during the autumn. Nadim Naaman will play Bertie with Bill Champion as Jeeves, they'll be joined by Jamie Baughan (Stinker Pinker), Katie Birtill (Madelaine Bassett), Howard Chadwick (Judge Watkyn Bassett), Joshua Manning (Cyrus Budge III Jnr), Oliver Maudsley (Gussie Fink-Nottle), Naomi Petersen (Stiffy Bing), Nigel Richards (Bingo Little) and Melle Stewart (Honoria Glossop). By Jeeves is running from 6 October - 4 November and further details can be found at www.oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk.
> Alan Ayckbourn's classic farce Taking Steps, directed by the playwright, can be seen in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 13 July - 5 October and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part work The Divide can be seen at the Edinburgh International Festival from 8 - 20 August. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, June 23, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1988

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1988
Between 1986 and 1988, Alan Ayckbourn had taken a sabbatical from the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, to become a company director at the National Theatre.
It had been an enormously successful period for Alan and he returned to Scarborough revitalised and ready to move the theatre forward; the year would see him notably write and direct the incredibly ambitious Man Of The Moment - which memorably featured a swimming pool as part of the set.
Yet much of the year at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was dominated by the fallout from an administrative conflict between the theatre manager, Ian Watson, and the publicity officer, Russ Allen.
Over the course of the year during which Ian Watson left the theatre in January and Russ Allen in December, an increasingly vitriolic spat was played out in the pages of the national media including The Stage newspaper and Private Eye.
Alan resumed work as Artistic Director of the theatre in June, slap bang in the middle of controversy as it spilled into the national eye. It was obviously not what Alan hoped the focus would be on during his triumphant return to the theatre, but it also intriguingly included the strange case of a lost play.
During the summer of 1988, Alan was scheduled to direct a new play by Peter Tinniswood called State Of The Union; Peter already had a good relationship with the theatre following the success of his plays You Should See Us Now (1981) and At The End Of The Day (1983).
State Of The Union was advertised in the summer 1988 brochure as to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn and featuring the return of a popular playwright to the theatre.

"The prolific author, playwright and radio dramatist Peter Tinniswood returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre with a brand new comedy which re-unites the Ayckbourn / Tinniswood director / author axis which so delighted audiences in past seasons with productions of You Should See Us Now (1981) and At The End Of The Day (1983). Warwick is a man in the middle of unions. As publicity officer for a small northern seaside watering town he has arranged Hallam-on-Sands' first ever trades [sic] union conference. It is no coincidence that the President of the Union is Warwick's father-in-law. Nor is it a secret that Warwick's own union with his wife Brenda is, like Hallam-on-Sands itself, rather gracious and run down - after 15 years of marriage, two dogs and disputes over where to live. Brenda's mum and dad aren't too happy either. And then there's the two dogs..."

And that is all we know of the play. It was later withdrawn from the summer season schedule with no public announcement and there is no documentation held in archive about why it was replaced. The only clue - and the likely reason - is an interview with Alan in the Yorkshire Evening Press in which it notes the play, like Stephen Mallatratt's withdrawn play Wonderland from the previous year, was simply not ready and had to be replaced in the schedule.
But this was not before State Of The Union fed into the Watson / Allen controversy as revealed by The Stage newspaper on 16 June 1988 (click on image to enlarge).
The Stage report of problems at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In
The Round, including the State Of The Union flyers issue.
Copyright: The Stage Media Company Ltd.
The report alleges that the theatre lost £2,000 when a flyer was discovered to have revealed "the top secret burglar alarm system number linked to the police station."
Intriguingly, this flyer was a key part part of the advertising for State Of The Union - although no-one would never likely have known this to be the case.
For the promotion of State Of The Union included a campaign for the previously mentioned fake holiday resort of Hallam-On-Sands. Except nowhere on the flyer does it indicate the town is fictional nor has any connection to a forthcoming play; it's not even a clever piece of early viral marketing as there is no way to contact the theatre - the number displayed was an outgoing only line.
The flyer has not been seen since 1988 and is reprinted below for the first time then and clearly illustrates a very strange marketing campaign (click on images to enlarge). 
The State Of The Union flyer (click to enlarge)
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The Stephen Joseph Theatre Archive also contains an early mock-up of the proposed programme cover for the play; sadly the quality is very poor as it was sent via fax, which present a great problem to archives today given how quickly they fade.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
With regard to The Stage's accusations, an internal investigation by the theatre revealed: "The cost of the posters was £200 [not £2,000]. The poster did give the security number but this does not now pose a security threat as the telephone line no longer accepts incoming calls, as is usual with security lines."
A piece of correspondence held in archive from Russ Allen suggests State Of The Union was withdrawn to be produced in a future season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, but it was never produced and Peter Tinniswood's next play at the venue would be in 1991 with The Village Fete, an adaptation of his acclaimed and popular radio plays.
All this marked a strange chapter in the life of the SJT. State Of The Union is one of only six publicly announced plays from the theatre between 1955 and the present day which were not produced and the Allen / Watson controversy is the only in-house controversy to have gone public.
All this whilst Alan was looking to re-integrate himself into the theatre as he resumed the daily running of the company.
Indeed throughout all this, Alan Ayckbourn remained largely silent as he began looking to the future of the Scarborough company and the theatre prepared to celebrate his 60th birthday in 1989.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Taking Steps in rehearsal

A play widely regarded as Alan Ayckbourn’s funniest, and his one true farce, Taking Steps, joins the programme at the Stephen Joseph Theatre next month.
Laurence Pears, Russell Dixon, Antony Eden during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
When tongue-tied solicitor Tristram is sent along to oversee the sale of a large and crumbling house, he may have bitten off more than he can chew: hardware tycoon Roland Crabbe and scheming builder Leslie Bainbridge are not the easiest of clients. Roland’s wife Elizabeth is on the brink of leaving him with the help of her brother Mark and his shrinking-violet fiancĂ©e Kitty. Misunderstandings multiply and play out in every corner of the three-storey house.
Laura Matthews & Antony Eden during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Alan Ayckbourn says: “Farce is the most difficult thing to write because it has to be a riot from beginning to end. Taking Steps is a difficult piece to handle, and I like a challenge - it requires the most delicate balance and the steadiest of hands to work.
“I think it’s one of the sillier plays I’ve written; it’s nice to be silly occasionally!”

Laurence Pears & Louise Shuttleworth during
rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Taking Steps goes is currently in rehearsal with a cast of six: Russell Dixon, Antony Eden, Laura Matthews, Laurence Pears, Louise Shuttleworth and Leigh Symonds.
Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth & Leigh Symonds
during rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
The creative team comprises designer Kevin Jenkins, who has recently designed several productions with Alan at the SJT, including The Karaoke Theatre Company, Consuming Passions and No Knowing; lighting designer Jason Taylor, who has worked on many productions at the SJT.
Laura Mathews, Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth
& Russell Dixon during rehearsals for Taking Steps.
(Copyright: Tony Bartholomew)
Taking Steps can be seen in the Round at the SJT, in rep, from Thursday 13 July to Thursday 5 October. Tickets, priced from £10 to £25, are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

By Jeeves cast announced

The full cast of the much anticipated revival of Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves has been announced.
Ayckbourn veteran Bill Champion will be playing Jeeves and joined by Nadim Naaman as Bertie Wooster in the light-hearted musical directed by Alan Ayckbourn which will run at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere from 6 October to 4 November.
Nadim Naaman is currently Raoul in The Phantom Of The Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre whilst Bill was most recently seen in last year's acclaimed revival of Henceforward... and the playwright's most recent piece, No Knowing.
The rest of the company has been announced as Jamie Baughan (Stinker Pinker), Katie Birtill (Madelaine Bassett), Howard Chadwick (Judge Watkyn Bassett), Joshua Manning (Cyrus Budge III Jnr), Oliver Maudsley (Gussie Fink-Nottle), Naomi Petersen (Stiffy Bing), Nigel Richards (Bingo Little) and Melle Stewart (Honoria Glossop).
Nadim Naaman (Bertie Wooster)
The production is part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Old Laundry Theatre, whose owner Roger Glossop will be returning to design the set - having previously designed the world, West End and Broadway premieres.
Roger and his theatre producer wife Charlotte Scott said: “We are really delighted to be putting on this revival of By Jeeves to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn. The original show, which re-opened the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1996, transferred to the West End and moved across the waters to  Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Broadway was such a fulfilling theatrical enterprise for all the creative team, cast and crew that the idea we can re-visit this piece, with its wit, pace and beautiful songs and present a large scale production at the Old Laundry Theatre is a fitting celebration for our 25th.”
Bill Champion (Jeeves)
They will be joined by Sheila Carter (choreographer), Steven Elis (musical director), Caroline Hughes (costumes) and Jason Taylor (lighting director).
By Jeeves was premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1996 to great acclaim. It is  a completely revised version of Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber's earlier musical Jeeves.
Set in the 1920s and keeping the dottiness of the original PJ Wodehouse stories, By Jeeves brings to life a cast of colourful characters, who include Bertie Wooster with his unquenchable optimism and his wonderfully supercilious butler Jeeves, renowned for his deadpan digs. The colourful characters continually and hilariously swap identities as they battle to salvage love and cover up embarrassing errors, causing confusion and mayhem galore.
Returning to the play for the first time since its Broadway premiere, Alan Ayckbourn said it was always fun to return to the musical and Wodehouse' characters.
By Jeeves is a party. It’s a celebration of theatre. I was always attracted by the innocence in Wodehouse and love the simplicity and characters, which I still find so refreshing.”
By Jeeves can be seen at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere from 6 October to 4 November and tickets are on sale now. Further details can be found at www.oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk.

Monday, June 19, 2017

News & Listings: 19 June 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 1 July: House & Garden at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury
Until 12 October (rep): Absurd Person Singular at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
8 - 20 August: The Divide at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)

News Round Up:
> Rehearsals have begun for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic farce Taking Steps. The production can be seen in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 13 July - 5 October and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part work The Divide can be seen at the Edinburgh International Festival from 8 - 20 August. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, June 16, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1985 - 1987

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1985 - 1987
The period of 1985 to 1987 is an unusual one for Alan Ayckbourn and the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in Scarborough.
For it was dominated by another theatre completely, namely the National Theatre and Alan's decision to take a two year sabbatical to the NT between 1986 and 1988.
An extract from a letter between Alan Ayckbourn and Peter Hall in which
Alan first expresses interest in coming to the National Theatre.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
 In 1984, following on from the success of Alan's production of A Chorus Of Disapproval at the NT, its Artistic Director Peter Hall asked Alan if he would consider taking a position as a company director at the NT for two years.
By this point Alan had been associated with Scarborough since 1957 and had been Artistic Director since 1972. It was, Alan later admitted, the only offer he would have ever even remotely considered to take a break from Scarborough.
On 3 June 1985, the Scarborough Evening News broke the news that Alan Ayckbourn was to take a sabbatical from his adopted Scarborough home, but there was no mention of where he was going other than he frequently received offers to work with other theatres; it does appear though that despite the NT not being named, it was a badly kept secret and common knowledge that was his destination.
So associated with Scarborough had the playwright become, there was a huge amount of media interest in the news alongside questions of why Alan was leaving and whether he would be returning.
Considering all that was to follow, the answer was given at the very start by his partner and personal assistant heather Stoney, who noted: "Alan is looking for a break because he is very tired, but does not want to lose touch with Scarborough in the meantime. He will still be writing plays for the Scarborough theatre."
The Stage's report on Alan Ayckbourn taking a sabbatical
from Scarborough for an as yet unnamed theatre.
Copyright: The Stage Media Company
Implict in the initial announcement was Alan was leaving for a pre-determined period and would be returning to Scarborough. The theatre's manager, Ken Boden, admitted the theatre had known about the move for some time and had been 'taken aback' but the theatre felt it was a great honour that there was so much interest in Alan.
Plans were meanwhile put in place for his sabbatical with Alan's frequent collaborator Robin Herford being named Artistic Director of the venue alongside Alan Ayckbourn; Alan would not step down from the role, but would delegate the day-to-day running of the theatre to Robin.
It was confirmed at the end of the year that not only would the NT indeed by Alan's home for the next two years but the theatre's long-standing general manager, Ken Boden, would be standing down. Ken had been involved in the running of the theatre since Stephen Joseph founded the company in Scarborough in 1955.
Alan Ayckbourn, circa 1986.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Aside from feeling a need to take a rest from Scarborough, Alan announced that the offer by the NT was too good to refuse and offered a huge challenge to him which he hoped would re-invigorate him for Scarborough. The contract included working with his own company with three productions in each of the National Theatre's auditoria including the world premiere of a new work in the Olivier. It would give Alan an exposure and challenge he had never had before.
"A myth has grown up, quite without foundation, that the Theatre In The Round's success depends on me. This myth is particularly prevalent in London where some people think that every play produced at Scarborough is written by me," said the playwright at the time.
Although he did not write a new play for Scarborough for 1986 before he left - his final premiere before the sabbatical was Woman In Mind in 1985 - he did write a new adaptation of the Aldwych farce Tons Of Money, which he would also stage at the NT, and revived his classic Time & Time Again. He did confirm there would be new plays for both 1987 (Henceforward...) and 1988 (Man Of The Moment).
Alan left Scarborough in February to begin his work at the NT and, almost immediately, the gossip began that he was not to return, despite the fact it had been plainly stated from the start that he would not stay in London.
The prime instigator behind this appears to be the then Financial Times critic Michael Coveney who wrote an article implying that the playwright was leaving the seaside resort for good.
"There have been differences of opinion with Alan Ayckbourn's home town of Scarborough and he is sinking anchor at the National Theatre and running his own company."
An article from the Northern Echo inn November 1986
denying Alan Ayckbourn was leaving Scarborough permanently.
Copyright: Newsquest Ltd.
The Scarborough theatre was quick to deny any such suggestion and rubbished claims that Alan had a rocky relationship with the town council; in fact, it had been a turbulent year for both Alan and the theatre, but no more turbulent than numerous other years between 1972 and 1986 including ones where he had publicly threatened to quit the town.
This unfounded report though did sting Alan and he quickly responded shooting down the allegation whilst also shedding a new light on his relationship with the Scarborough theatre, particularly another vicious rumour that he was personally profiting from the theatre.
For the first time it was revealed that he had never drawn a salary as Artistic Director of the theatre, had put in more than £70,000 of his own money to finance productions and that 1% of his gross box office receipts from productions of his work elsewhere went to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round. He also confirmed he would be returning in May to Scarborough to direct the world premiere of Henceforward... before retrying to the NT.
An article from the Yorkshire Post, in November 1986, in which
Alan Ayckbourn reveals his long commitment to Scarborough.
Copyright: Johnston Publishing Ltd.
Alan was then - as now - completely committed to the theatre which had made such a big impact on his life having been encouraged and inspired to write and direct by the company's founder Stephen Joseph.
To a small extent the rumours continued for several months, but it was tacitly acknowledged there was no story and the Stephen  Joseph Theatre In The Round was also thriving even without Alan running it.
Late in 1986, the playwright confirmed he would be back in six months once he had directed two final shows at the NT; his remit having been extended from three to four productions.
In 1988, Alan returned to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, reinvigorated and re-enthused. His first production was the incredibly ambitious and classic Man Of The Moment and within two years he would be making his most ambitious plans for the theatre yet with plans to finally move the company to a permanent home.
His time in London had been a huge success, he had been lauded and won awards and his production of A View From The Bridge was acclaimed by Arthur Miller as the definitive production of his play.
He had proved a point. He had stretched his wings, met a new challenge and demonstrated to London his skills as not just playwright but also director, whilst also demonstrating the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was not dependent on him alone and could run successfully without him.
Point proved, his began to eye his next challenge. One firmly set in Scarborough and the theatre he loved.

Monday, June 12, 2017

News & Listings: 12 June 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 1 July: House & Garden at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury
14 June - 12 October (rep): Absurd Person Singular at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
8 - 20 August: The Divide at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)

News Round Up:
> Pitlochry Festival Theatre tackles one of Alan Ayckbourn's classic plays this summer when Absurd Person Singular opens this week as part of its repertory season. Pitlochry regularly revives Alan Ayckbourn's plays - including an ambitious revival of the Damsels In Distress trilogy last year - and Absurd Person Singular can be seen from 14 June until 12 October with further details at www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com.
> Rehearsals begin today for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic farce Taking Steps. The production can be seen in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 13 July - 5 October and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part work The Divide can be seen at the Edinburgh International Festival from 8 - 20 August. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, June 9, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1984

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1984
1984 saw the premiere of a play that is now considered an classic of the Ayckbourn canon, yet it had the potential to be very different.
We have already seen in 1982 how Alan Ayckbourn nearly wrote a thriller, Sight Unseen, but then changed his mind, salvaging only the characters and location to write Season's Greetings.
Two years later, he had another idea and although the basic concept always remained the same - a play set around a newcomer joining an amateur operatic society - the actual form it could have taken was wildly different from what was originally written.
Rehearsing for the world premiere of A Chorus Of Disapproval.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The roots for A Chorus Of Disapproval go back to January 1984 when Alan received an enquiry from Peter Hall, Artistic Director of the National Theatre, whether he had any ideas for a new play for The Olivier at the venue.
This was the largest space at the NT and Alan took the opportunity to conceive an idea which would fill the stage with an amateur dramatic company and its production of Rudolf Friml's The Vagabond King....
I know what you're thinking, A Chorus Of Disapproval is centred around John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.
But not originally.
Alan had read The Vagabond King and admits it 'amused me no end' - and not in a particularly good way.

"It's one of the funniest Samuel French scripts in existance, because the songs have all got very, very painstakingly detailed stage directions on choreography: 'Man 2 and Man 13 run five paces down to L. and kneel, while Woman 15 dashes across to Man 4 and grasps him by the hand.' I had this image of this director, trying to direct the thing from a French's edition. As with all amateur societies, five of them hadn't turned up, two of them are standing in for others - you know, the comic results could be enormous!"

The ludicrous stage-directions would have obviously have had comic potential, but Alan had even grander ideas for the play - the first of his plays to include unexpected interaction from the audience.

"There would have been a large amateur choir, who would be scattered through the auditorium, reducing the audience capacity from its usual 303 to about 215 seats. There'd be about 85 singers, completely incognito, sitting in scattered seats, and at various points starting to sing from their seats - thus causing the person next to them to look absolutely alarmed."
A scene from the world premiere of A Chorus Of Disapproval.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
It should be noted that in Paul Allen's biography of Alan Ayckbourn, he notes it would have been 20 people in the audience, but 85 or 20, it's still a fairly ludicrous amount of audience plants within a play.
To make this work for the original production in Scarborough, Alan needed more actors than he could possibly have afforded to pay, so he decided to turn to Scarborough's amateur community itself; creating a play about the amateur community populated by members of the amateur community - no possible chance of conflict there....
To this end, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round placed an advert in the Scarborough Evening News, looking for budding amateur operatic members to appear in Alan's new play with the advert reading:

"He [Alan] is anxious to meet AMATEUR SINGERS who would be interested in taking part in this venture. Some Soloing experience is required at least sufficient to cope with the demands of the average Light Opera Society Repertoire."

The Scarborough Evening News advert
Auditions actually took place with Alan Ayckbourn and leading members of the amateur community helping. Or rather not. At one point, Alan was shocked to see an auditionee begin singing before being abruptly told to leave. When Alan thought this had been done too harshly, he was told it was best not encourage them!
It was at this point that the whole project began too unravel and, perhaps, this was a blessing for the playwright who was uncertain about the direction the play was taking.

"Several things conspired to thwart the original idea. The Rudolph Friml Estate, fearing for their play, refused to release the rights. For which I didn't blame them one bit. Simultaneously, those members of the local Scarborough Operatic Society whom I had approached seemed reluctant to accept anything but leading roles, for which I didn't blame them either; and finally Equity, the Professional Actors' Trade Union, declared the whole idea of including amateurs in this way unacceptable. Which forced me into swift solutions, all of them, it transpired, blessings in disguise."

Alan returned to the script and abandoned The Vagabond King, which he later admitted was 'a load of garbage' and found instead a piece which he genuinely loved and was inspired by, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.

"I greatly admired and had always wanted to produce, Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Which in turn provided the missing piece to the whole venture. Gay's play had a plot which echoed almost perfectly the one I intended to write and provided the perfect mirror image on which to build my own dramatic structure. Moral: always work with something you admire and not with something which you only set out to make fun of. That way you might even manage to raise your game rather than lower it."
A scene from the world premiere of A Chorus Of Disapproval.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
With Equity having forcibly refused Alan's desire to have 85 amateurs in the company - presumably misguidedly believing Alan was about to employ 85 extra professionals - he jettisoned the grand scale for a small professional company and the play as we know it today began to take shape.
It was not all a wasted experience though as although Alan has frequently emphasised no-one in A Chorus Of Disapproval is based on a real person, his experiences with the amateur community did provide plenty of inspiration particularly for Pendoan Amateur Light Operatic Society's Artistic Director, Guy ap Llewellyn.
Alan, meanwhile, had written to Peter Hall and informed him of the changes to the play he had initially proposed.

“Needless to say, the play is vastly different from the one I described to you on the phone a few weeks ago. No chorus of amateurs. Just a few good singers. (Equity intervened there). I had to go back to John Gay as his agent was the only one who didn’t raise an objection.”

Extract from Alan Ayckbourn's original letter to Peter Hall.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
On 2 May 1984, A Chorus Of Disapproval opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, much altered from its original concept and none the worse for it. It would prove to be tremendously popular both in Scarborough and, the following year, at the National Theatre.
It would go on to become one of the most revived and popular plays in the Ayckbourn canon - and much beloved by amateur companies, which is not something the playwright would ever have predicted.

Monday, June 5, 2017

News & Listings: 5 June 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 1 July: House & Garden at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury
14 June - 12 October (rep): Absurd Person Singular at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic farce, Taking Steps, opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 13 July before going into repertory until 5 October. Further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Several performances of the world premiere staging of Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part The Divide at the Edinburgh International Festival have already sold out. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1983

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1983
In 1983, Alan Ayckbourn made the headlines nationally as he was announced to be more popular than Shakespeare.
Arts Council, 2 November 1983
Click to enlarge
Since then, that fact has been regurgitated endlessly in the media despite patently being untrue - it wasn't even substantively accurate in 1983!
In a culture today where 'fake news' is seemingly on every one's lips, Alan Ayckbourn has been the subject of it for more than three decades. For if you've ever read any article which proclaims that Alan Ayckbourn is the most performed playwright in the UK or the second most performed after Shakespeare, it has no basis in fact and is actually completely unprovable.
And, more importantly, doesn't reflect the original facts from which these statements were originally drawn.
All that can be said with absolute confidence is that Alan Ayckbourn in 1983 - within a very specific and narrow context - was demonstrably proved to have been produced more than Shakespeare.
On 2 November 1983, the Arts Council issued a press release leading with 'Ayckbourn more popular than Shakespeare.' The rest, over time, has largely been forgotten.
Evening Standard, 2 November 1983
Click to enlarge
 The report was drawn up to highlight attendance at the UK's regional, subsidised theatres at the time and covered just 36 theatres. Within this most narrow of contexts, audiences to see plays by Alan Ayckbourn were higher than those to Shakespeare's with Willy Russell in third place between 1981 and 1983.
During those two years, 327,000 people went to see an Ayckbourn  play as opposed to 318,000 to a Shakespeare play - however the Bard nudged Ayckbourn on performances with 1,060 compared to 1,034.
It was notable at the time and subsequent reports over the next few years had Alan swapping between first and second places fairly regularly. Again, always within a very specific, defined context of regional subsidise theatre.
The reports which are no longer produced offer an interesting insight into regional theatre at the time and do prove that Alan Ayckbourn was very popular in the regions, but little more.
The Stage. 10 November 1983
The reports did not include the West End (although he was exceptionally popular throughout the '80s in the West End) nor commercial theatres nor amateur theatres. Now had all these been included it's highly likely Alan would still have been in a similar position, but there are - nor have there ever been - statistics which include all theatrical venues / productions in the UK.
Daily Telegraph 11 December 1990. Click to enlarge
But that did not stop, over the years, the story transmuting until it became regular practise - still to this day - to name Alan as the second most performed playwright in the UK after Shakespeare.
With no evidence. No facts. No references.
Sunday Mirror 6 November 1983
Now he may well be the second or third most performed playwright after Shakespeare, but there are no statistics available to back this up. All we know is he is very popular and consistently performed by professionals and amateurs throughout the UK.
When in 1990, Alan was named the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare in the same Arts Council survey, this was also widely reported and seems to have become the source of so many 'facts' reported in Ayckbourn stories ever since.
So if anyone ever says to you, Alan Ayckbourn is more popular than Shaksepeare, you can reply: "Yes. Yes, he was. Over a specific period of two years in 36 regional, subsidised theatres in England, he was more popular than Shakespeare. But in 2017, all we can say is he's very popular and been very successful."
And being popular and produced is more than enough to satisfy the playwright, be it in 1983 or 2017.





Tuesday, May 30, 2017

News & Listings: 29 May 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn's revival of the musical By Jeeves at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, will also offer a chance to ask the playwright questions about his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. Following the 11 October performance of By Jeeves, there will be a post-show Q&A with Alan and members of the company. By Jeeves is running at the Old Laundry between 6 October and 4 November and further details and booking details can be found here.
Sisterly Feelings, Alan Ayckbourn's first play to incorporate an element of chance into each performance, is being presented this week by Dick & Lottie at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. The piece is being presented as part of their 'season of chance' plays and the company is the only amateur company in the UK dedicated to the works of Alan Ayckbourn and whose patron is Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website. Further details can be found here.
> Alan Ayckbourn's House & Garden has now opened at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. House & Garden consists of two plays performed simultaneously in two spaces by the same company; the plays can be seen in any order. House & Garden is directed by Elizabeth Freestone and is running until 1 July and further details can be found here.
> Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic farce, Taking Steps, opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 13 July before going into repertory until 5 October. Further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Several performances of the world premiere staging of Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part The Divide at the Edinburgh International Festival have already sold out. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1982

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1982
1982 for Alan Ayckbourn and the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, is dominated by a single play.
Albeit a single play of epic proportions.
It opened on 3 June 1982 and would run in repertory until 1 October 1983 - although it would not be finished until 1 February 1983 nor seen in its entirety until nine months after it had first opened.
The play is Intimate Exchanges and it challenged the playwright, his actors and the his home theatre as no other play before.
The roots of Intimate Exchanges actually lay in the previous year's equally challenging - if in a completely different way - Way Upstream; this being a play which required a cabin cruiser moving through a flooded stage with rainfall. Technically as complicated as the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was ever likely to get.
Astonishingly, the company toured Way Upstream to the Alley Theatre, Houston, during early 1983 during which, Alan Ayckbourn discovered he was to lose most of his repertory company and his initial plans for the 1983 summer season were spoilt. For various reasons, most of the company were either departing or taking a break and Alan was left with just two actors; but two very respected actors.
Whilst the playwright has subsequently noted he could have just recast or brought a new company in, he found himself left with two of the most experienced actors in the company.
He'd had an idea for a play for two people for some time utilising a concept he had begun exploring in 1980 with Sisterly Feelings. It would be a radical combination.

This seemed the perfect time to pursue an idea that had been haunting me ever since Sisterly Feelings, namely to write a large scale multi-ended opus in which choices genuinely lead to other choices in an increasing proliferation - one, two, four, eight, sixteen and so on. It was intended not merely as a vast gimmick, but to pursue a theory that I had long held that the tiny, often careless choices we make in our lives can lead to vast consequences. In Intimate Exchanges, during the overall canon, depending on whether or not Celia Teasdale decides to have a cigarette in the first five seconds, several people are divorced, start affairs, have children together, die, and even, very occasionally, live happily ever after.

Alan Ayckbourn's original structure for Sisterly Feelings with
eight permutations rather than four.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
In Sisterly Feelings, Alan had written a play which had randomly determined alternate scenes for the two middle scenes of the play, so the play had four potential variations. But this was a scaled down version of his original idea for the play, which would have been a branching play starting with a common first scene which branched at the end of each scene, leading to a total of eight possible permutations.
Alan decided to simplify this structure, but like so many of his ideas, it stayed in his mind waiting for the right moment to be developed. He now had that opportunity but on an even larger scale. A play that would ultimately have 16 different permutations.
The structure for Intimate Exchanges with all 16
possible permutations.
Copyright: BBC / Alan Ayckbourn
First and foremost though, he needed the co-operation of his two actors. Without them - without actors he trusted and knew were capable of meeting the challenge - the project would be a non-starter. Over two dinners in Houston, he proposed the idea separately to Robin Herford and Lavinia Bertram. Added to the complex structure was also the final piece of this jigsaw. Each actor would play at least four different roles. The request was obviously flattering to each actor and both tentatively agreed to the idea, although Robin - recently a father - was not at all confident about what he had committed himself to. It was not long before the sheer scale of the play revealed itself.

"Here were two actors I'd worked with for years and years, two people who would actually trust me, and I could trust them, to do a play of an enormous nature."

Lavinia Bertram & Robin Herford
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan began with the structure, setting out the general course of each of the plays. The initial plan was to actually write the complete play in one go and introduce it entirely over the course of the 1982 summer season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
This proved impractical and was altered to Alan writing four of the eight major variations for the summer season before writing and introducing the rest of the variations over the course of the following year. The plays would begin in June, run through the summer, come back into repertory for the autumn before taking over the theatre again from January to mid April coming back in the summer the following year.
Not only was it an ambitious idea, but potentially a very risky one. Eric Thompson, the director of the London production of The Norman Conquests, had once remarked of the trilogy that if audiences didn't like the first one, they weren't going to come and see the other two and they'd have not one but three flops on their hands. Here, the stakes were even higher. It was one play, but it was essentially a year's worth of programming for the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough.
If audiences did not like the idea or support the notion of visiting multiple times, it could be a very expensive risk for the venue.
The scale of the piece - and perhaps even the lunacy of the idea - had begun to become clear when rehearsals started in May 1982. Alan had completed three of the variants with one other largely completed. The summer season opened on 3 June with A Cricket Match, which went into repertoire with the other two completed variants. The rest were introduced over the course of the year ending with A Pageant premiering in February 1982. By this point Alan had written 31 scenes which incorporated approximately 16 hours of dialogue, ten characters, 12 major set changes and dozens of quick changes.
At the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, a huge diagram of the structure was hung in the foyer with lights to indicate the choices of that evening's performance (unlike Sisterly Feelings, the scale of Intimate Exchanges precludes an in-performance random element) and it was emphasised not only could the plays be seen in any order but that it was not necessary to see all the plays - or any more than one - but the more you saw, the richer the play and the characters would become.

"Intimate Exchanges is, hopefully, a project that grows on you. And grows. And grows…. You will appreciate that working on a canvas this size - with nearly 30 hours of drama - it was my intention that the characters should continually unfurl and spring, just occasionally, the odd surprise. I hope they'll always remain the same, in that they're true to themselves always, but will nonetheless develop as new pressures or situations present themselves."
Alan Ayckbourn with the diagram illustrating the structure of
Intimate Exchanges in the foyer of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The audience reaction was key to the success of Intimate Exchanges, more so than the critical reaction. After all, positive word of mouth would keep people coming and talking about the play over the course of a year. A good review might bring people in initially, but it would not be read or relevant a week later - never mind fifty weeks later (particularly in a pre-internet era when it was not so simple to track down old reviews).
Fortunately, the audience response was overwhelmingly positive with people keen to return and see how the lives of the characters altered with the choices made. It validated Alan's decision to dedicate so much of a year's programming to the play and was, no doubt, gratifying to the actors who were having to learn so much dialogue.
The play's run ended on 1 October 1983, preceded in April by the Intimate Exchanges Grand Marathon, a much publicised sell-out event in which every possible permutation of the play was offered in 16 performances over 12 days.
Alan Ayckbourn, Lavinia Bertram & Robin Herford celebrate
100 performances of Intimate Exchanges in 1983.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The size of the piece has meant that it has only ever been revived in its entirety one other time - although the various parts of the play have been performed individually, as pairs or with four combinations over the years.
The revival was, naturally, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, in 2006 when Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhirst undertook the ambitious challenge. But that production had its own issues when Alan Ayckbourn had a stroke two weeks before rehearsals began - and the story of that will be told in approximately 20 weeks as part of this 60 year celebration!
Back in the 1980s and Intimate Exchanges would go on to transfer to the Greenwich Theatre before moving to the Ambassador's Theatre in the West End, still starring Robin Herford and Lavinia Bertram. Essentially their lives would be dominated by Intimate Exchanges from May 1982 to February 1985. Afterwards, Robin would retire from acting to concentrate on directing!
Intimate Exchanges remains to this day one of Alan Ayckbourn's most ambitious works and like Way Upstream the year before, clearly demonstrated that the playwright and his home theatre were committed to exciting and extraordinary theatre - for which the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round become well known for throughout this decade.

"It was a fascinating and very rewarding experience which I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Between Robin and Lavinia, they memorised thirty scenes, eleven different characters and sixteen or so hours of dialogue. I described it rather pompously as a Festival of the Art of Acting. Lavinia described it as an orgy."

Author's note: We'll be taking a short break from the 60 Years features and they'll return in two weeks on Friday 2 June.

Monday, May 15, 2017

News & Listings: 15 May 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
13 July - 8 October: Taking Steps at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Although Alan Ayckbourn's talk at the British Library next Monday is now sold out, there is an opportunity to see it live-streamed. Several central libraries around the country (including Poole and Leeds) are live-streaming the event looking back at the playwright's long career. Check with your local library for the nearest live-streaming venue. Alan Ayckbourn: Eighty Plays On is taking place at the British Library on 22 May at 7pm.
> Several performances of the world premiere staging of Alan Ayckbourn's epic two-part The Divide at the Edinburgh International Festival have already sold out. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre, The Divide is an epic love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. The Divide will be performed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and early booking is advised via the festival website here.
> The blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1981

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1981
When it comes to 1981 and Alan Ayckbourn's time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, there is really only one thing to discuss.
But then, when you announce a play that will essentially turn a small regional theatre into a canal, it's quite hard for anything else to compete!
Welcome toAlan Ayckbourn's play Way Upstream.
Alan has become well known over the decades for his fondness for what he terms 'event theatre'; productions which celebrate theatre, particularly its liveness and offer an experience that can only be truly appreciated in the theatre.
His first of these was arguably The Norman Conquests trilogy at the Library Theatre in 1973. Way Upstream marked his first major theatrical event at the company's second home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, and it pretty much went for broke.
The inspiration for the play is surprisingly prosaic and didn't - initially - necessarily involve the idea of the most challenging setting to have yet appeared in an Ayckbourn play.

"I wanted to write a play about the nature of leadership, and why some members consider themselves to be leaders and others don't, and the ones who do consider themselves to be leaders are obviously the ones who shouldn't be anyway, and the ones who don't consider themselves to be leaders would probably make very good ones if they put themselves forward. It's an ironic twist. Just to write a play with five or six people sitting in a living room discussing it would probably be very boring, but I got the idea of setting it in a cabin cruiser on the River Thames, because that is where the nature of leadership always comes out. You see these red-faced men in yachting caps shouting at their reluctant families 'Come along darling, tie up, tie up, come on!' That was three or four ideas in one play."
Easy notes for the play including a different name for the boat -
the Hadforth Maid II - and Alistair and Emma were originally
named Adam and Edie.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Of course, it wasn't such a simple step as just deciding to write a play and fill your stage with water, you need to be sure it's practically possible and here Alan had the good fortune of discovering the theatre - based on the ground floor level of a former school - was blessed with concrete floors. Previously, Alan's original production of Time And Time Again had seen the pond develop a leak into the reading room below the Library Theatre on the first floor of Scarborough's public library.
Here, if water spilt or leaked, it was only going to flood the theatre rather than the metal-working classes held in the floor below by a local college!
Way Upstream was scheduled to open on 2 October 1981 and Alan began writing it on the 11 August As was common at the time, it meant that when the play was being publicised, Alan had not written a single word of the script and there was a suitably nebulous description in the summer brochure.

"At the time of going to press all we have is the title and a brief description that the play is a tale of mutiny and piracy set aboard a cabin cruiser on a sleepy English river, but rest assured that the script will arrive in time for rehearsals, so don’t miss the opportunity of being among the first audience ever to see this new play from Alan Ayckbourn."

In an interview from the time, Alan himself was equally coy about what he was creating, except to say that it was going to be quite different to anything he had written before.

"It is for me quite a departure. Whatever else I'm being accused of, I don't think I'm trotting out the same old play again."

Of course, one would imagine that when contemplating the most adventurous and challenging production to have yet be staged by the company, preparation and planning would begun some months in advance.
Or not.
Alan finished writing the play in early September and - approximately four weeks - before the play was due to open, spoke to his designer - Edward Lipscomb - about the precise needs of the play.
This essentially boiled down to building a tank to enable the flooding the auditorium, creating a watertight and movable boat and having a localised downpour. Just another day in the life of a designer and theatre production team!
An early sketch by Alan Ayckbourn showing his design for
set - essentially a cabin cruiser!
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Edward's first step was to contact a water effects specialist. Byll Elliot, who was responsible for the water effects at the Paris Lido. The job of his company -  Watersculptures of Lancaster - was to create a rainstorm as well as creating realistic waves spray out from the bow of the boat and a wake from the boat's stern.
The depth of the water, concealed by a specially formulated powered to make the water murky, was just nine-and-half inches, which had to cover anything required to move the boat as well as hiding the platform the boat would be built upon.
For this, Edward turned to the local firm Archer Industrial Systems, who built a revolving plate which was placed on a trolley which moved along rails installed within the tank - all of which had to be built without knowing the precise dimensions and weight of the finished boat; they had just three weeks to achieve this!
The boat itself came from a local boat builder, Colin Wigglesworth, based at Riggs Head near Scarborough. Edward explained they needed a boat without a bottom and could they help?
Fortunately, the firm had old moulds for cabin cruisers - no longer in  demand and last used in 1965 - and from there were able to construct a boat in three sections  measuring 19ft in length; each section had to fit through a four ft, nine inches door to get into the auditorium.
Back in the theatre, thick - but flexible - plastic sheeting was laid creating a watertight pool around the auditorium which had removed the first row of seats to build up to the necessary depth. Onto the plastic heating went the rails constructed by Archers. Electrics were then installed, which obviously involved a great deal of isolation given the proximity to a body of water!
Watersculptures had meanwhile installed a simple pump with a pipe running up to and across the ceiling ending in a shower which could create the rain effect.
The boat was brought into the theatre on Sunday 28 September and assembled onto the plate which was now on the rails. A motor to move the boat / plate was installed which proved to be too small and blew up. A new larger motor was order from Leeds, which arrived the day before the show was due to open, but when installation was completed at 4am, it also did not work; the problem fortunately discovered to have been a short in the terminal box.
On the Tuesday, the Yorkshire Water Authority arrived to fill the tank using two high powered fire hoses to fill the entire tank. All the while, carpenters and the production team were working on the boat to finish it.
Designer Edward Lipscomb on the set of Way Upstream, sat
on the Hadforth Bounty in a flooded stage.
Copyright: To be confirmed.
The boat was finally ready by the Friday when it was decided to test out the water effects for the first time; the water was turned on and a monsoon appeared which was so heavy that the water bounced off the boat into the auditorium seats. It was decided not use the rain during the first performance as adjustments were made for more of a drizzle than a storm!
Despite the water technicians creating a rainstorm, it was realised too late they had not accounted for one thing which broke the illusion of the play. A dripping shower head. After the storm, the water did not completely shut off and dripped onto the boat.
This was solved by the theatre's master carpenter Frank Matthews, who simply rigged a string operated cup by the shower head that could be released to cover the head once the rain had stopped, catching any drips.
The issue with the motor meant a dress rehearsal was lost and the technical rehearsal did not take place until the actual opening day, finishing just 25 minutes before the show had its opening! Despite all this, as Alan testifies, it was all very much worth the stress and pressure experienced by everyone involved in bringing it to the stage in time.,

"It was exciting with the Way Upstream experience when various elements pulled together. We asked a local boatyard to provide a 'sawn off' boat, for instance, and local interest certainly caught fire with this show. It was not an easy project, and it was trial and error. It was a new technology to move bottomless boats with motors through water - albeit only ten inches of it. With a varying number of people on board it required a great deal of work with gears and motors. If the motor was too strong the boat shot water everywhere, and if it was too feeble it started to catch fire. Our poor engineer was rushing backwards and forwards trying different strengths of motor and various gearing When it worked, which thank heavens it did on the first night, there was a sort of sigh of relief from the entire audience followed by a huge round of applause. A sort of 'thank you, God' followed by applause."

With the exception of the cancellation of the first preview to accommodate the technical rehearsal, it is remarkable to think no performance was cancelled during the play's original run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round and that it was a technical triumph achieved on a shoestring budget.
The play was a resounding hit with Scarborough and apparently the sight of the 'lake-in-the-round' when audiences first entered the auditorium was hugely exciting.
The play enjoyed a sell-out run at the theatre and the first night audience - full of Scarborough people who had worked on everything from building the cruiser to designing the winch system for movement - apparently cheered as the boat moved away from its moorings for the first time.
Way Upstream is notably the first of Alan Ayckbourn's play to leave the suburban household and marked a new phase of his writing. It was hardly a tentative step into the world at large!
Of course, the question is, how do you follow something of this scale?
Well, initially, Alan decided to tour the production. To Houston. Way Upstream transferred with the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round company across the Atlantic in February 1982 for a month long residency. Way Upstream was staged at the Alley Theatre in a water-filled stage complete with moving boat and rainstorm and went incredibly smoothly on a limited budget.
Somewhat ironic given that the National Theatre with a huge budget and all its technical resources was not initially able to achieve this the following year with its infamous staging issues.
Alan Ayckbourn at the wheel of the Hadforth Bounty at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
And after touring Way Upstream? What could Alan possibly follow this up with at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round?
Only a two-hander play.
Albeit a two-hander which happened to have sixteen different endings, more than 30 hours of dialogue, 10 characters and took more than a year to unveil in all its glory....