Friday, April 7, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1977

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: 1977
By 1977, Alan Ayckbourn had been writing professionally for 18 years and written 20 plays.
Despite this, his 21st play would demonstrate that no matter how experienced he was, sometimes the process of writing a play is still not an easy one and can be beset by wrong turns and problems.
Ten Times Table was such a play.
The previous year had seen the opening of the Theatre In The Round At Westwood, a new home for the company of which Alan was now Artistic Director following 20 years at the Library Theatre. Alan had chosen to open the venue not with a new play, but a revival of one of the few plays which had not been previously produced in Scarborough, Mr Whatnot.
His first new play at the venue would come in 1977 and would reflect much of the frustration he experienced in moving the company to its new home; predominantly through the interminable amount of meetings he attended.
Ten Times Table was announced to the world on 6 November 1976 by the Yorkshire Post with other publications - such as the Daily Telegraph - also carrying the news that his '20th' play (actually his 21st) would open in January with the title Ten Times Table, but no other details existed as it had not been written yet.
The Daily Telegraph's report on
Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table.
Copyright: Telegraph Media Group Ltd
At the time, Alan still wrote to the latest possible deadlines which was generally as close to rehearsals starting as possible.
His central idea for Ten Times Table essentially remained the same throughout the writing process centring on a committee of ten people preparing for a historical festival in his fictional town of Pendon.
Early notes show the plot was initially slightly more fixated on the relationships between the characters and that rather than based in the single location of the final play, it was multi-location with the action moving variously between the Swan Hotel and the homes of the various committee members, as this brief hand-written description notes.
"Follow Lawrence and Charlotte in [act] I through the eyes of the friends. We see Lawrence and Charlotte beginning the Friends Committee up to its break up. [Act] II Lawrence and Charlotte at home - guests etc. Their relationship under pressure. [Act] III The break up - the Festival in the tent?"
An early description of the plot for Ten Times Table written
bu Alan Ayckbourn.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Admittedly, this doesn't really resemble the final play (other than the committee and the festival), but this is where the play originated and, from which point, Alan began writing on Tuesday 21 December.
In context, rehearsals were set for Wednesday 29 December with the play opening on 18 January.
At which point, it all went wrong.
"I broke down in the middle. I actually got to a point in the play where I had to admit 'I simply can't go on, I don't know where we are. 48 hours before we started to reading it. And I turned back, to do my other trick. I was on page 46, or something, and I went back to page 23 [see below]. That's 23 pages thrown away, which is a hell of a lot of play: it was nearly a third or a quarter of the play."
By mid-day on Christmas Eve, Alan realised his mistake was not only the multi-location setting of the play, but the emphasis on Lawrence and Charlotte's relationship, rather than the committee. He decided to base the play in a single location and jettisoned the Lawrence and Charlotte relationship.
Which unfortunately had an awkward knock-on effect. At the time, Alan's partner (now wife), Heather Stoney, had been offered the central role of Charlotte. She also typed the plays as he dictated them to her....
Having stopped writing to reconsider the play, he realised his mistake; which does contradict his earlier statement suggesting the cut was far more brutal.
"My mistake, I discovered, had occurred on page seven, when I foolishly chose to leave the single location and take my characters out and about."
The playwright's original hand-drawn design for the set with
multiple locations, even moving into one of the seating blocks.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The effect of this was to completely cut the character of Charlotte from the play. Heather was informed of this, before Alan resumed writing the play for Heather to type!
Resuming writing from  page seven, Alan wrote the entire play between Christmas Eve morning and Boxing Day night! The play's first read-through - having had to be typed with copies printed and bound - took place on 28 December evening with rehearsals commencing the next morning.
Christopher Godwin (standing) during rehearsals for the
world premiere of Ten Times Table.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The play itself proved to be a huge success for the company, but extraordinarily - given all the effort - it was scheduled to play for just 11 days, closing on 29 January; the size of the company meant it could not be revived for the summer season.
The popularity of the plays and demand for tickets saw its run extended for a week until 5 February, but - all told - it was only performed 18 times in Scarborough.
The play also generated much interest as it was presumed that it was autobiographical and Alan had been inspired by the people he had met at many of the committee meetings. Although Alan would later suggest no characters were based on real people, at the time he was not so keen to disavow the suggestion.
"One professional committee man managed to string out the [local council] meetings for about four hours, so I wrote him into the play. Everyone recognised him. On the first night, in Scarborough, people were nudging me and saying: 'Blimey, we know who that is.' And then I saw the actual councillor in the audience. I was dreading what he would say, but he was delighted, went to see himself in the play every night. The last thing he asked me was: 'Who's going to play Me in London?'"
A scene from the world premiere of Ten Times Table with
Robin Herford (fourth from left) as Count. Evans.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
In Paul Allen's biography of the playwright - Grinning At The Edge - the actor Robin Herford confirmed his character, Councillor Donald Evans was based on Councillor Maurice Plow, a bank manager who had also been a member of Scarborough Theatre Trust for many years. Maurice was famous at the theatre's previous home, the Library Theatre, for leading a rebellion against Stephen Joseph's decision in 1958 to end the playing of the National Anthem after every performance; he would even resign from the board in protest before later rejoining the board.

We're taking a short break for Easter and the 60 Years articles will resume on Friday 21 April.

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