Friday, January 27, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1960 - 1961

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: 1960 - 1961
1959 was a year of huge significance for Alan Ayckbourn in which his professional playwriting career began and he had two very successful plays produced at the Library Theatre.
1960 would not follow the same pattern.
Following the success of The Square Cat and Love After All, Alan was commissioned late in 1960 to co-write a Christmas play with the theatre's first resident playwright, David Campton, based on the famous novel The Borrowers.
David and The Borrowers connection dropped out of the equation very quickly and Alan set to work on the piece alone; although initially lacking what one might consider a vital piece of information....
“Stephen [Joseph] just said: “Um… will you be putting any ballet into your play?” And I said “WHAT!” and he said: “Ballet.” Well I pointed out that I didn’t write ballet but Stephen just said I should.”
Stanley Page (centre) & members of the British Dance
Drama Theatre in Dad's Tale.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Stephen had made a deal for a co-production between the Library Theatre and the British Dance Drama Drama Theatre, which had performed in Scarborough during the summer. Unfortunately, the company was based in Birmingham and Alan had to allow for the fact the two companies would not meet until the dress rehearsals. It was, it can be said with confidence, a challenging production.
"The two [companies] never actually met each other till the final rehearsal. This was also the last time I played multiple roles. I spent the evening rushing on and off, changing moustaches. The play had its moments, thanks to a witty production by Clifford Williams and a rich central performance by Stanley Page as Dad. It was my first children's show. It opened in Scarborough just before Christmas and, including the director, played to an audience of five with an average age of forty. It was my first taste of theatrical failure. I was very depressed and gave up writing for several months."
Alan Ayckbourn (centre) in Dad's Tale.
Copyright; Alan Ayckbourn
The play was a huge flop for the company and - following another seasonal failure with Christmas V Mastermind in 1962 - Alan would not write another family play for 27 years until Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays in 1988.
Throughout 1960 and 1961, Alan was predominantly employed as an actor with the Library Theatre company, but come 1961 another string was added to his bow and his future career path became clearer.
For the summer 1961 season, Alan was given his first professional directing job by Stephen Joseph with a production of Patrick Hamilton's classic play Gaslight at the Library Theatre. It was something Alan enthusiastically approached, perhaps realising his future might not lie as an actor - and something which his mentor had possibly also realised.
A publicity postcard for Theatre In The Round featuring
David Jarrett & Hazel Burt in Alan Ayckbourn's
directorial debut Gaslight.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
"Stephen Joseph gradually encouraged me to direct in order to put a spoke in the wheels of my acting career, but that is a poisoned chalice for an actor; if they get the taste for directing, they slowly tire of acting because directing is global and you have a view of the entire production."
The production of Gaslight drew plaudits for Alan with The Stage newspaper's review noting "This production, by Alan Ayckbourn, is polished, building with authority from its quiet opening to the chilling of spines as the tension mounts towards hysteria."
Hazel Burt in Gaslight.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Following his playwriting debut in 1959, it marked another hugely significant moment in Alan Ayckbourn's career in the theatre. From this point on, Alan would increasingly concentrate on his directing and writing with his acting career gradually being phased out by 1964.
"I became more and more objective about what was happening as a director and a less objective actor. I was a waste of space as an actor by the end of it!"
By the end of 1961, just six years into his professional life, Alan had been a stage manager, actor, writer and director. And his journey was really only just beginning.
But in 1962, he was about to take his first significant break away from Scarborough and it was not clear at the time whether he would return.

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