Friday, March 24, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1975

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: 1975
1975 marked a significant point in Alan Ayckbourn's writing and directing career with a play that still stands as one of his most popular and successful creations.
The play was Bedroom Farce and it marked a notable first for Scarborough, the Library Theatre and Alan Ayckbourn.
Alan Ayckbourn outside the Library Theatre in 1975.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Although it premiered at the Library Theatre, Bedroom Farce was commissioned by the National Theatre, making Bedroom Farce the first play written and premiered in Scarborough to be produced at the NT.
The play had come about as a result of the NT's Artistic Director, Peter Hall, becoming an admirer of Alan's work and eager for him to write for the venue's new home on London's South Bank, which opened in 1975. As he wrote to Alan at the time, 'You may be able to do without the National Theatre but can the National Theatre do without you?'
Alan was formally approached in January 1974 to provide a play for the Lyttelton auditorium as part of the National Theatre’s first season. Alan agreed and provided Peter Hall with a title for the play at least a year in advance of actually writing it.
Although Alan would not write the play until May 1975, an interview with the Sunday Times in June 1974 confirmed he already had some firm ideas. “I’m going to call it Bedroom Farce, A Comedy. I’m worrying about it a bit because I’ve never written for the posh fellers before. It’ll have everything about bedrooms but copulation, something which I believe is hardly practiced in the British bedroom anyway.”
The title was later shortened to just Bedroom Farce, but commenting on the original title Alan noted: “I thought I’d confuse the issue.” Later he may have regretted not keeping the title when some critics took issue with the fact Bedroom Farce was not really a farce, despite Alan never describing the play as such. Indeed he has always described the play itself as a comedy: "It's a comedy though it's called a farce."
Crucially, Hall agreed that Alan could premiere the play at the Library Theatre in Scarborough, before it transferred to the National Theatre.
National Theatre Artistic Director Peter Hall
with a Theatre In The Round T-Shirt.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Despite the long lead-in, Alan was still writing to the latest possible deadline and, as Peter Hall's biography recalls, it was a particularly tense time for playwright and production given the playwright was writing in London.
“It [Bedroom Farce] was due to rehearse on a Monday; he started writing it on the previous Wednesday, wrote all day Wednesday and most of the night, all day Thursday and most of the night, all day Friday and most of the night; on Saturday he typed it out, and on Sunday armed with some duplicated copies he drove up to Scarborough. He gave it to the cast on Monday morning, and after the reading collapsed in bed for two days. He said this was the kind of pressure he needed, and usually induced, to write a play.”
Despite this, rehearsals went well although the production itself was not without issues. Alan had written Bedroom Farce to cope with the particular design challenges of the Lyttelton at the NT in mind; namely a wide, quite thin stage. His solution was three bedrooms which would be placed side-by-side.
He had intended for Scarborough though - as always - to stage the play in the round. However, legend has it that Alan hadn't realised just how large double beds were. The set, as planned, would not fit in the Concert Room at the Library Theatre, so Alan quickly re-designed it for a three-sided / thrust  staging. He would not actually direct it in the round as he had planned until a revival of the play in 2000 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Alan Ayckbourn's original in-the-round set design sketch
for Bedroom Farce.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Bedroom Farce opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 16 June 1975 and was, commercially, very successful. Reviews were mixed though with some of the broadsheets having particular issues with the characters of Trevor and Susannah.
Polly Warren & Christopher Godwin as Susannah & Trevor
in the world premiere of Bedroom Farce.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The play was a hit though and soon to become more popular than the author could ever have imagined. The NT production, having been moved back from 1975 to 1977, saw Alan directing for the first time in London. The production opened on 16 March 1977 and was met with an effusive reaction by the critics. The vast majority of the reviews were positive and most of the original concerns were forgotten; although Alan had made next to no alterations to the script.
Programme cover for the world
premiere of Bedroom Farce.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
By April 1978, Bedroom Farce had become the NT's longest running show in repertoire and during its first year was seen by 140,429 paying audience members. Such was the play’s success, the NT decided to transfer it to the West End in association with Michael Codron. Initially scheduled for an 11 week run - later extended, Bedroom Farce opened with a new cast at the Prince Of Wales Theatre on 7 November 1978.
By the time it closed on 29 September 1979, it had become the second longest running London production of an Ayckbourn  play following Absurd Person Singular, which it still retains today. It has become one of the most perennially popular and re-staged of Alan's plays.
Scarborough's hit-maker had now conquered both the West End and the National Theatre, but one of his biggest challenges was still to come.
Finding a new home for the Scarborough company.

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