Friday, January 13, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1958

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: 1958
Alan Ayckbourn had joined the Library Theatre company in Scarborough in 1957, but following the summer season, he had worked as an actor during the winter at the Oxford Playhouse.
However, the Library Theatre's Artistic Director, Stephen Joseph, asked Alan to return to Scarborough the following summer with the promise of more acting roles as well as increased stage management responsibility. Alan agreed and this, essentially, laid the foundations for his long-standing commitment and dedication to the company and the town.
Stephen Joseph & Alan Ayckbourn (back row, centre)
with the 1958 Library Theatre company.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan stayed with the company for both its summer and winter seasons appearing in three of the six summer plays and all three of the winter plays; the winter seasons at the Library Theatre had only been launched the previous year and demonstrated the town's early support of the company.
His first play of the season, Captain Carvallo, was notable for it being the first time he acted alongside Christine Roland; a new actress to the company who Alan would marry the following year.
At the time, Alan was already engaged though to a stage manger with the company, although it was not to be a long engagement. Alan's biographer, Paul Allen, writes of the story that the engagement was called off during the 1958 autumn tour and that the next day, partly persuaded as a means to get the company publicity, Alan proposed to Christine with the same ring!
Alan Ayckbourn & Christine Roland in Captain Carvallo.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan and Christine appeared in four plays together that year and had became close friends as a result of this. She accepted the proposal with them moving into a small flat for Christmas.
Professionally, this season saw Alan moving into more than the walk-on parts of the previous summer and the start of some good notices in the press; although Alan himself has always considered himself as purely an able actor.
"I lacked an awful lot of technique, but what I lacked in technique, I made up an awful lot in sincerity and because I knew better than to show my lack of technique, I kept very still on stage. I got a lot of reviews: “His lizard-like stillness” and of course, as one knows later on, if you stop waving your arms around and you just sit still, just flick your eyes round, you can pull focus that way just as well."
After playing Private Gross in Captain Carvallo, he was Constable Williams in Dial M For Murder and then appearing as the valet, Pasquin, in Marivaux's Love And Chance, he got his first notable review with the Scarborough company from the Yorkshire Post.
"Mr Alan Ayckbourn enjoys every moment of his promotion from valet to master but never believes in it that his performance is a constant joy."
HIs work during the summer season led to Alan being promoted to full-time actor for the winter season; although he undoubtedly also helped with stage management given the nature of the company at the time.
The increase of roles also led to increased notice in reviews. He played Alfred in Jean Jacques Bernard's Martine ("handled with carefully rough edges by Alan Ayckbourn"), Eric In David Campton' Ring Of Roses ("Alan Ayckbourn burbled amusingly into oblivion") and Abrahm in Kataev's Squaring The Circle ("Alan Ayckbourn, as Abrahm, is also slightly too enthusiastic").
An illustration by J. Morton Stanley for the Birmingham Weekly
Post of the play Martine with Alan Ayckbourn (second from left).
Copyright: Birmingham Weekly Post
But this was not enough for the young actor, he felt he was capable of much more than the roles he was being offered and, following Ring of Roses, he made his now famous approach to Stephen Joseph.
"I was in a play directed by Stephen and I'd been complaining about the quality of the script. So Stephen challenged me to write a better one - on condition that I took the main role myself. He was a wise man. It's one thing to write a play and throw it to a bunch of actors to die in, but quite another to appear in it oneself"
Alan Ayckbourn (left) in Ring Of Roses, the play which
launched an extraordinary writing career.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The result was Alan's first play, The Square Cat, but that's part of the next article alongside his experiences with a extraordinary young writer / director, who came to Scarborough during Christmas to direct one of his own plays with Alan appearing in a lead role.
Christmas 1958 would lead to an pivotal six month period for Alan Ayckbourn and the story of how he went from being directed by Harold Pinter to writing his first play.

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