Friday, March 31, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1976

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: 1976
In November 1975, the Arts Council announced that the Library Theatre in Scarborough had the highest percentage attendance of any subsidised regional theatre in England.
It was a remarkable achievement and yet, despite this, the company felt unwanted and seemed to be on a precipice. In January 1975, North Yorkshire County Council had confirmed the Library Theatre must vacate Scarborough Library within twelve months.
Despite all the theatre had done for the town - which by this point was being increasingly associated with Alan Ayckbourn both nationally and internationally - it was obvious, as Alan Ayckbourn notes, things had to change.
"Conditions in the library where we spent our first twenty years were getting difficult to say the least. They'd pinched back one of the rooms, so we only had two rooms to do a repertoire of five plays in. It was very hard work and very difficult for the actors - one wash basin and all that sordidity."
Alan probably didn't help matters during the company's final months though when the Chief Librarian was reported to have arrived at work one day only to find a Morris Minor outside his first floor office, as part of the get-in for Alan Ayckbourn's latest play Just Between Ourselves! It was, as Alan noted, probably 'the final straw.'
Alan Ayckbourn removing the advertising page following the
final performance at the Library Theatre in 1976.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Theoretically there was a solution on the table to the theatre's problems, but there is serious doubt as to whether anyone within the theatre really believed it would come to fruition.
During October 1975 - at a point when the company had made serious progress in securing and making plans to convert St Thomas's Church into its new home - Scarborough Town Council dramatically revealed previously secret plans for a purpose-built theatre opposite Scarborough Library on Vernon Road car park with permission to proceed approved in the same meeting.
This was surprise, if welcome news for the company, but the plans were for several years hence. The theatre would have to be built and, in the meantime, Alan had no current home for the company with the Library unwilling to consider anything but a short six month extension to its deadline.
The only solution was a short term lease offered by Scarborough Town Council for the former Westwood County Modern School, beneath Valley Bridge. It was far from ideal, but the only practical and financially viable solution.
Scarborough Theatre Trust agreed to move into Westwood - as it was colloquially known - at an estimated cost of between £20,000 - £30,000 to convert the ground floor of the building into a practical theatre space; it would actually cost £38,000 - drawn from the money being used to fund a permanent home for the company.
This - the Vernon Road theatre - was budgeted at £500,000 of which the Trust committed to raise £120,000. All was agreed and on 11 September 1976, the company performed for the final time at the Library Theatre where it had first performed on 14 July 1955.
Dismantling the Library Theatre following the final
performance of Just Between Ourselves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
There was now just 60 days to convert a former ground floor of a school into a working theatre!
That they did this was a remarkable achievement in itself, even though on the day of opening, Alan recalls concrete and paint still apparently drying!
"I clearly remember the first night there. Wet paint everywhere front of house and since the stage lighting board wasn’t yet connected, I had to light the show off a trailing thirteen amp lead, each lamp individually, one at a time. The result being nobody has the remotest idea what the final picture would be! Cussedly I decide to re-open the theatre with a previous failure, Mr Whatnot. Which went fine if a bit dark in places...."
The 308-seat venue opened as Theatre In The Round At Westwood on 26 October 1976 with a revival of Artistic Director Alan Ayckbourn's Mr Whatnot; one of the few plays by the playwright which had not premiered or been seen in Scarborough and which had been a notorious West End flop. It did rather better in Scarborough.
A photo montage from the Mr Whatnot programme showing
the conversion of Westwood from school to theatre in 60 days.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The original lease for Westwood was for just three years, but it soon became obvious there was not going to be a new permanent home for the company. Nor that Westwood wasn't going to be without its own unique problems.
"Now we're in a building - and we sighed with relief, but then they moved the Technical College in downstairs, and they do things like lead-beating classes on Tuesdays. It's absolutely deafening... They had no idea we used the theatre in the daytime at all, and we pointed out that we did rehearse. We managed to get clearance for matinee days, although they tended to forget that... It's lunatic planning, so once again we're fighting some ridiculous battle. Hardly a day goes past when I'm not on the phone to someone at the Technical College, saying: 'Excuse me, but I can't hear my dress rehearsal.' It's a most extraordinary thing."
Just months after moving in, the town council announced that the escalating costs of the proposed new theatre meant it was no longer viable; at no point was it ever explained how the budget went from £500,000 to more than £1m in less than 18 months.
This posed another problem as having agreed to move into Westwood, Alan was told in 1977 that all funding by the Arts Council would cease if it did not have a four to five year lease.
"It's ironic really, when you think that there'd be several places that would willingly give us house-rooms, and yet here we are only guaranteed another eighteen months in the building."
Westwood was not truly fit for purpose, the promised purpose-built theatre had vanished and it was fair to say, the company felt no progress had been made in the two years since January 1975. On top of that, Alan discovered the company shouldn't actually have been operating at all!
"I learnt later that we opened ‘illegally’ since after several months, we still hadn’t signed a lease with the owners, North Yorkshire County Council."
This highlighted the disparity between the town and county councils. The latter had never really appreciated how significant the theatre and Alan had become to both Scarborough's economy and reputation and which the Town Council were loathe to lose.
In a tacit acknowledgement the company would have to make the best of a bad situation, on 1 April 1978, Westwood was renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in memory of its founder; a name that was initially planned for the new permanent home for the company.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round - second home of
the company formed by Stephen Joseph in 1955.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The following year, the Westwood lease was extended to 10 years and a grant of £105,000 from the local authority, English Tourist Board and the Arts Council offered an opportunity to make the building fit for purpose. A rehearsal room was finally created alongside a costume store, extra offices and other improvements including air conditioning in the main auditorium.
It was a home of sorts and would become, despite all its quirks, a theatre embraced by Scarborough audiences. What was intended as a home for no more than three years instead lasted for 20 years from 1976 to 1996.
Despite everything, Alan had overcome his first truly major challenge as Artistic Director. He had secured a home foe the company and successfully guided it through every obstacle thrown at him.
He now needed to establish the space and make it not only a worthy successor to the Library Theatre, but a success in its own right.
So began the work that within the decade would see the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round recognised as one of the most successful and significant regional theatres in the UK.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

News: 27 March 2017

News Round Up:
> It's going to be a busy summer for Alan Ayckbourn fans and we've got a brief recap of some of the significant forthcoming Ayckbourn productions and events in the coming months.

22 May: Eighty Plays On - A Talk With Alan Ayckbourn (British Library, London)
15 June - 12 October: Absurd Person Singular (Pitlochry Festival Theatre)
13 July - 5 October: Taking Steps - directed by Alan Ayckbourn (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
8 - 20 August: The Divide (King's Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival)
30 August - 2 December: How The Other Half Loves (UK tour)
1 September - 7 October: A Brief History Of Women - directed by Alan Ayckbourn (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
10 September: A Brief History of Plays: Part 1 - Alan Ayckbourn celebrates 60 years at the SJT (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
17 September: A Brief History of Plays: Part 2 - Alan Ayckbourn celebrates 60 years at the SJT (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
18 September - 28 October: The Norman Conquests (Chichester Festival Theatre)
24 September: Remembering Stephen Joseph With Alan Ayckbourn & Friends (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
6 October - 4 November: By Jeeves - directed by Alan Ayckbourn (The Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere)
Dates TBA: The Divide (The Old Vic, London)

Further details can be found at www.alanayckbourn.net alongside listings for other professional and amateur productions of forthcoming Ayckbourn plays.

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

News: 20 March 2017

News Round Up:
> Edinburgh International Festival has announced its first Ayckbourn production with he world premiere staging of his epic narrative The Divide. Produced in association with the Old Vic Theatre and directed by Old Vic Associate Director Annabel Bolton, The Divide is an ambitious multi-media love story set in a dystopian future where the sexes have been divided following a catastrophic disease which has decimated the male population. Told over two performances, The Divide is unlike anything Alan Ayckbourn has ever written and more details about The Divide itself can be found at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here. The Divide will be performed at King' Theatre, Edinburgh from 8 - 20 August and it is recommended both parts are seen for the best possible experience. Further details and bookings for The Divide can be found at the Edinburgh international Festival website here. The Divide will transfer to the Old Vic, London, later this year.
> Alan Ayckbourn's classic comedy How The Other Half Loves is touring this autumn. Directed by Alan Strachan - who directed the acclaimed West End revival last year - it will be touring to Theatre Royal Windsor (30 Aug - 9 Sep), Salford Lowry (11 - 16 Sep), Theatre Royal, Glasgow (18 - 23 Sep), Theatre Royal Bath (2 - 7 Oct), Richmond Theatre (16 - 21 Oct), Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (23 - 28 Oct), Everyman Theatre, Chelthenham (6 - 11 Nov), Theatre Royal, Brighton (20 - 25 Nov) and Norwich Theatre Royal (27 Nov - 2 Dec). Further details can be found here.
> Booking is now open for Alan Ayckbourn's new play and revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer. He will be directing the world premiere of A Brief History of Women and a revival of Taking Steps. He will also be hosting two gala events, A Brief History of Plays, in which he will be celebrating his 60th anniversary with the Scarborough company through reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of his plays. Further details about all these events can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> 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, March 17, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1974

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: 1974
It had been two years since Alan Ayckbourn had taken over as Artistic Director of the Library Theatre and the previous year had seen the company break box office records with Alan's acclaimed trilogy, The Norman Conquests.
The playwright had every reason to be optimistic about the future of the company he had inherited from its founder, Stephen Joseph. He had plans to expand it moving forward, not least making it a year round operation rather than the summer season orientated company it was now.
But rather than the theatre and Alan being embraced as a positive attribute to the town, it kicked off a series of events which not only led to the threat of the Library Theatre closing, but also Alan Ayckbourn leaving Scarborough.
The summer of 1974 had been a successful one for the company and seen the world premiere of Alan's latest play Absent Friends, now seen as a landmark in his writing career. At the end of the season, the company had launched its first touring season since 1962 with another new Ayckbourn play, Confusions. The company was expanding its programme and its reach.
Key to further expansion was a bid to operate in Scarborough's public library for 40 weeks a year and, to that end, an application was put in for, what was hoped, would be a formality.
However, earlier in the year, the responsibility for administering the library had moved from a town to a county council level; a small administrative move which led to an audacious conflict of interests and a county council sub-committee almost being responsible for the loss of Stephen Joseph’s legacy in Scarborough.
The background to which lay with a high-profile campaign to restore Scarborough’s Opera House theatre; launched the previous year, the campaign had garnered popular support with 13,500 signatures and the backing of several prominent Scarborians in a bid to raise £30,000 by January 1975 to obtain the building’s lease.
Against this, Scarborough Theatre Trust - which ran the Library Theatre - applied for the extended license in November 1974, expecting little in the way of opposition. They were to be surprised.
On 23 November, the Scarborough Evening News reported North Yorkshire County Libraries Committee had turned down the application more than two to one when County Councillor Erkki Lahteela “spearheaded opposition to the Library Theatre proposal” suggesting the theatre’s presence would “take facilities away from organisations” in the town.
The Scarborough Evening News story
from 23 November 1974.
Copyright: Scarborough Evening News
Now there might have been a cogent argument here - after all the Library Theatre was based in the Concert Room on the first floor of Scarborough Library and the room was, arguably, there for the use of the town.
However, this argument was dulled substantially by the fact that Coun. Lahteela also happened to be the chairman of the Opera House Preservation Society and about to become the very public face of an argument that was to be largely played out in the regional media.
The county council’s decision was unexpected and put both Scarborough Theatre Trust and Scarborough Town Council into a difficult position. The Town Council viewed the theatre as an asset to Scarborough, welcoming both the publicity and the money it generated, but which had also made little progress in helping to secure a much needed new home for the company away from the library.
Which was problematic considering the company was now threatened with homelessness.
On 25 November, Alan Ayckbourn was interviewed by the Scarborough Evening News with a prominent story proclaiming “Ayckbourn says he will quit if Library Theatre is refused a longer season.”
There he regretfully noted how if the County Council's decision was not overturned it would leave Scarborough without a repertory company and also lead to his “own departure from Scarborough.”
Extract from Alan Ayckbourn's threat to 'quit' Scarborough
published in the Scarborough Evening News on 25 November 1974.
Copyright: Scarborough Evening News
Carefully rebutting all of the committee’s raised objections to the license, he also addressed the Opera House issue for the first time publicly, questioning the veracity of the plans and suggesting the money would be better spent knocking the building down and constructing a more suitable Scarborough theatre - with an in-the-round space - in its place.
It was a provocative statement, never likely to be accepted.
Just to add fuel to the fire, Hull Arts Centre also made an offer to house the company - which had unilaterally voted to join Alan in his threat to leave Scarborough; interestingly the Arts Centre would later become the Spring Street Theatre, home of Hull Truck Theatre and intrinsically connected with another playwright figurehead, John Godber.
Scarborough Evening News story about Hull Arts Centre's
offer to Alan Ayckbourn from 25 November 1974.
Copyright: Scarborough Evening News
The argument between the county council and the Theatre Trust received extensive television and newspaper coverage with both parties going on the attack in numerous interviews, which saw Alan at one point note: “I feel hurt, naturally, that our application for a 40-week season was rejected on such flimsy pretexts, and after 17 years I would have thought the town would be more supportive for theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough.”
As the conflict rolled into December, Scarborough Councillors publicly pushed for a special meeting of the Libraries Committee, which the county council agreed to.
With his dual positions publicly exposed and being portrayed in a less then positive light, Coun. Lahteela resigned as chairman of the Preservation Society and went on to make a rather extraordinary public declaration, which generated national coverage. He announced neither he nor any other county councillors had realised “how famous Alan Ayckbourn was.”
It is not recorded what his fellow councillors thought of this sweeping statement proclaiming their profound cultural ignorance, but it was perhaps not the wisest of comments.
In context, in 1974 alone Alan has been the subject of both extensive national and international press coverage for equalling the record for the most plays simultaneously playing in the West End, he also had his first Broadway success, been featured in a self-titled documentary on BBC2 and was a constant presence in the region’s newspapers.
It seems highly unlikely that the entirety of North Yorkshire County Council was unaware of who Alan Ayckbourn was or his fame. The county council now also needed to save face.
On 3 January 1975, a special meeting of the Libraries Committee was held and its decision reversed. The Library Theatre company was given permission to run a season from May until January 1976.
It was not all good news though as, in a additional statement, the committee declared this would be the company’s final season at the library and it would not be extended.
As for the Opera House Preservation Society, the deadline for purchasing the lease passed that same month. Despite its thousands of signatories and reports it was well on the way to raising the needed £30,000, the society had actually raised less than £500 and its bid - and existence - ended there.
Alan Ayckbourn had secured the future of the Library Theatre, but essentially only for another twelve months. A new home was needed, but before all this was to come the creation of one his most popular plays.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Divide To Transfer To The Old Vic

Alan Ayckbourn's The Divide will transfer to The Old Vic from the Edinburgh International Festival later this year.
Following yesterday's announcement that the playwright will mark his festival debut with the two-part epic examining 'a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection,' it has been confirmed for a London transfer.
Dates have not yet been announced, but a priority mailing list can be accessed from The Old Vic's website here. The Divide will be premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival from 8 - 20 August 2017.
The Divide takes place a century from now, where England is recovering from a great disease. Contact between men and women is fatal. They live on separate sides of the Divide. Men wear white as a mark of their purity. Women - still infected - wear black as a sign of their guilt and sin. Gay relationships are the norm; heterosexuality is a perversion.
Brother and sister Elihu and Soween grow up in post-catastrophic Sarum, slowly learning the ways of the misogynistic, bullying society around them. But when Elihu falls for the daughter of two radical mothers, he risks not only fatal disease, but also inciting a bloody revolution.
The Divide is a co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival and London’s The Old Vic, directed by Annabel Bolton, associate director of The Old Vic.
Further details and bookings can be found at the Edinburgh International Website here (Part 1) and here (part 2) and you can find out more about the history of The Divide at Alan Ayckbourn's official website here.
Details of the Old Vic transfer will be carried on this blog as soon as they are announced.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Alan Ayckbourn To Make Edinburgh International Festival Debut

Alan Ayckbourn is to make his Edinburgh International Festival debut with a world premiere staging of a radical departure from anything he has previously created.
The Edinburgh International Festival and The Old Vic are co-producing The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn, a tale for our own turbulent times that unflinchingly examines a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection, which marks a significant departure from the playwright's previous work.
Previously only seen in a single gala reading, Alan was unsure The Divide would ever be performed and is delighted that not only will it be staged in an ambitious two-part production but that it will also mark his festival debut.
"This is a real surprise. I wrote The Divide under very extraordinary circumstances and, as a result, I said - at it’s only public reading - that this is something you’re probably not going to see again," said Alan.
"I just wanted to write something I couldn’t even see myself directing. I just let my mind go into free fall. I think it shows enormous courage and touching faith in The Divide, that director Annabel Bolton and the Old Vic have picked it up and run with it. God help her! I think its a very brave thing to do and I’m looking forward to seeing what she and her team create."
A century from now, England is recovering from a great disease. Contact between men and women is fatal. They live on separate sides of the Divide. Men wear white as a mark of their purity. Women - still infected - wear black as a sign of their guilt and sin. Gay relationships are the norm; heterosexuality is a perversion.
Brother and sister Elihu and Soween grow up in post-catastrophic Sarum, slowly learning the ways of the misogynistic, bullying society around them. But when Elihu falls for the daughter of two radical mothers, he risks not only fatal disease, but also inciting a bloody revolution.
Drawing on a vast repository of diary and journal entries, newspaper articles, transcripts and council minutes, Ayckbourn’s epic dystopian fantasy brings together forbidden love, brutal repression and insurrection in a richly imagined work that looks back to George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Aldous Huxley and even Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass.
Alan Ayckbourn has produced 80 internationally acclaimed stage works including Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and A Chorus of Disapproval.
Matthew Warchus, Artistic Director for the Old Vic, said it was hugely exciting for the Old Vic and the festival to be working together to bring The Divide to the stage.
"The Old Vic was in residence at the very first Edinburgh International Festival and it’s with great pleasure and hugely fitting that we celebrate our respective milestones by collaborating again to co-produce the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s ambitious and exciting new work, The Divide."

Although The Divide marks the first time an Ayckbourn work has been presented as part of the Festival, Alan actually began his professional theatre career at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1956, as an acting stage manager for Sir Donald Wolfit’s production of Fritz Hochw√§lder’s The Strong Are Lonely.
In The Divide, Ayckbourn deliberately pushes himself in an entirely new direction and it receives its first ever staging in a co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival and London’s The Old Vic, directed by Annabel Bolton, associate director of The Old Vic. A gala, one-off semi-staged reading of The Divide previously took place at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in September 2015, but this marks the world premiere of a staged production of this epic work in two parts.
Further details and bookings can be found at the Edinburgh International Website here (Part 1) and here (part 2) and you can find out more about the history of The Divide at Alan Ayckbourn's official website here.

Bookings open to the general public from 25 March 2017 with booking for patrons and friends of the Festival open now.

The Divide: Part 1 (click here for bookings and details)
Preview 8 August at 2pm; , 11-13, 15, 17, 19 & 20 August at 2pm; 16 & 18 August at 7.30pm.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Divide: Part 2  (click here for bookings and details)
Preview 9 Aug at 7.30pm; 11-13, 15, 17, 19 & 20 August at 7.30pm; 16 & 18 August at 2pm

The Divide is a play written in two parts. It is recommended seeing both parts in order to get the best possible experience. Running time is approximately three hours per performance.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How The Other Half Loves UK Tour

Alan Ayckbourn's classic comedy How The Other Half Loves is to tour the UK this autumn.
Having enjoyed a successful six month run in the West End last year, director Alan Strachan is returning to the production to take it out on tour.
It will see Matthew Cottle reprise his West End role of William Featherstone joined by Sara Crowe, Robert Daws and Caroline Langrishe with further announcements to be made soon.
Directed by Alan Strachan, design is by Julie Godfrey with lighting by Jason taylor and sound by Dan Samson.
How The Other Half Loves centres on three couples, the wife and husband of two of which are having an affair. Their respective unknowing and unwitting alibis being the third couple. The play features a composite set of two flats with events in different places - and even different days - taking place simultaneously.
Written in 1969, How The Other Half Loves was Alan Ayckbourn's second major success in the West End following Relatively Speaking, when it opened with Robert Morley starring in 1970. It has been produced around the world - including on Broadway and in two West End revivals - and is considered one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous and popular plays.
A full list of confirmed venues and dates can be found below with further details available at  www.billkenwright.com.

How The Other Half Loves 2017 Tour
> 30 August - 9 September: Theatre Royal Windsor
> 11 - 16 September: Salford Lowry
> 18 - 23 September: Theatre Royal, Glasgow
> 2 - 7 October: Theatre Royal Bath
> 16 - 21 October: Richmond Theatre
> 23 - 28 October: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
> 6 - 11 November: Everyman Theatre, Chelthenham
> 20 - 25 November: Theatre Royal, Brighton
> 27 November - 2 December: Norwich Theatre Royal

Monday, March 13, 2017

News: 13 March 2017

News Round Up:
> The Mill At Sonning is presenting Alan Ayckbourn's Improbable Fiction from 16 March to 6 May. The venue has a long history of staging Alan Ayckbourn's plays - frequently with directors and or actors who have worked frequently with Ayckbourn himself; this production sees the return to the venue of acclaimed Ayckbourn director Robin Herford. Further details and bookings for the play at the dinner theatre venue can be found at www.millatsonning.com,
> Booking is now also open for Alan Ayckbourn's new play and revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer. He will be directing the world premiere of A Brief History of Women and a revival of Taking Steps. He will also be hosting two gala events, A Brief History of Plays, in which he will be celebrating his 60th anniversary with the Scarborough company through reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of his plays. Further details about all these events can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Tickets are now on sale for Alan Ayckbourn's talk at the British Library on Monday 22 May. Eighty Plays On will see the playwright discussing his work and career with Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times. The event is taking place in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library from 7pm and further details and booking information can be found 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, March 10, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1973

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: 1973
The first full year after Alan Ayckbourn became the full-time Artistic Director of the Library Theatre in Scarborough was dominated by a single major theatre event.
Throughout his six decades within theatre, Alan has emphasised that the great strength of theatre is it is live; to that end he has created theatre events which cannot be replicated - at least not with the same effect - in other mediums.
The earliest example of this is in 1973 when he created what is arguably his most famous work, The Norman Conquests.
Alan Ayckbourn stood on a roof in Scarborough
for no apparent reason in 1973.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Although it was never his intention to seriously tackle such a huge challenge so early in his tenure as Artistic Director. Like many things in his life, it came about more because of circumstance than design.
"At the end of the [1972] Scarborough season the local press boy came bounding up the stairs and asked what I'd got planned for next year. I said dunno, might finish up with a trilogy. So there was a note in the paper, "Trilogy Eagerly Expected." I didn't put a denial in. I thought since the Gods have said that, let's have a go. "
Sadly for such a crucial and retold moment in theatre history, it's not actually known how much of this story is accurate! There's no record of the newspaper article in archive and although it's been claimed by several publications to have been their story, the actual article has - as yet - not come to light. In all likelihood, it was probably published by the Yorkshire Post or the Yorkshire Evening Press.
Whatever the case, it caused a bit of a stir at the Library Theatre whose Board was completely unaware of or prepared for such an idea! Alan had grasped the nettle though and had already considered most of the serious obstructions and issues he would have to surmount when writing such a piece.
"When I first considered the trilogy, I was aware that it would be optimistic to expect an audience like this [predominantly tourists] necessarily to be able to give up three nights of their precious holiday to come to our one theatre. Any suggestion that it was essential to see all three plays to appreciate any one of them would probably result in no audience at all. Similarly, were the plays clearly labelled Parts One, Two and Three, any holidaymaker determined to play Bingo on Monday would probably give up the whole idea as a bad job. The plays would therefore have to be able to stand independently yet not so much that people's curiosity as to what was happening on the other two nights wasn't a little aroused. Second, as I have said, it should be possible to see them in any order. Third, since we could only afford six actors, they should have that number of characters."
A publicity shot for world premiere of The Norman Conquests
with Rosalind Adams, Alex Marshall, Christopher Godwin & Janet Dale .
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan's solution was to write three plays set within different locations of the same house over a single weekend featuring the same characters. As he thought about how to write the plays, so the theatre began to advertise them - but not as we know them today. Firstly, they were not advertised as a trilogy and secondly, there is no mention of the name The Norman Conquests in any advertising material. In fact, this title would not be given to the play cycle until it transferred to London in 1974.
The plays were written simultaneously over a week in May 1973 and posed a challenge Alan would not have to face again until he wrote House & Garden in 1999; for how to write three plays which are so intricately connected?
"I wrote them in time sequence. So I started with Norman's meeting with Annie in the garden, which is the earliest moment in any of the plays, and I finished with the latest, also in the garden. But I went from the garden to the dining room, then to the living room and back to the garden, and so on. I had the unique experience of finishing at one point two plays - Table Manners and Living Together - on the same night... which I shall probably never do again. But having written them cross-wise, one had no sense of judgment how they would work downwards: would they work as individual plays? So that was a gamble. For once one has seen any one of the plays, it's very difficult to divorce yourself to judge any of the others. They all have different and interesting shapes."
He also had to allow for the fact that his leading man, Christopher Godwin, was unavailable for the first week of rehearsals and so Norman is absent from the first scene of Table Manners, which was the first play to go into rehearsal.
The plays were launched on 18 June 1973 at the Library Theatre with Fancy Meeting You (later retitled Table Manners), which was followed by Make Yourself At Home (later retitled Living Together) on 25 June and Round And Round The Garden on 2 July.
Alex Marshall, Christopher Godwin & Rosalind Adams in the
world premiere of Make Yourself At Home (Living Together).
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Finally able to see and appreciate the fruits of his labours, Alan realised the plays naturally built upon each other but also had developed their very own individual personalities.
"Climaxes, comic ones naturally, seemed to abound everywhere. Hardly had I finished dealing with the fury of Reg's game (Living Together) than I was encountering a frenzied Sarah trying to seat her guests (Table Manners) or Ruth beating off the advances of an uncharacteristically amorous Tom (Round And Round The Garden). Strangely too, each play, although dealing with the same characters and events, began to develop a distinct atmosphere of its own. Table Manners was the most robust and, as it proved onstage, the most overtly funny. Round And Round The Garden, possibly due to its exterior setting, took a more casual and (as it contains the beginning and end of the cycle) a more conventional shape. Living Together has a tempo far slower than anything I had written before and encouraged me, possibly because of the sheer over-all volume of writing involved, to slacken the pace in a way I had never dared to do in any comedy."
The plays were an enormous success, especially as audiences realised there was more than one part and very quickly, the sold out board began appearing outside the venue as reported by The Stage newspaper on 9 August 1973.
"In the first six weeks of the summer season of theatre-in-the-round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn's comic trilogy of plays - Fancy Meeting You, Make Yourself At Home and Round And Round d The Garden - has broken all box office records at the theatre and will continue in repertoire until 15 September."
Norman ruffles a few feathers in Round And Round The Garden.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
From an off-hand comment emerged one of the Library Theatre's greatest success and one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous and acclaimed works. It would transfer to London the following year before going onto Broadway and has been revived consistently since 1973 around the world; perhaps most famously with Mathew Warchus's acclaimed revival for the Old Vic in 2008 which also transferred to Broadway.
It also gave form to one of Alan's most endearing characters - further giving shape to what became known as the 'Ayckbourn Man' who had first appeared in Time & Time Again and Absurd Person Singular - in the shape of Norman.
As to his enduring appeal and quite why such a character appears to be so attractive to women, Alan offered a reason that explained how Norman's appeal has transcended both time and social changes.
"I always think that Norman's success with women rests in the fact that he thinks he's fooling them by working the charm whereas they can clearly see straight though him but are charmed nonetheless by his artless efforts and his touching transparency. In the end, Ruth knows he loves her and he's only 'working' the other two. What she really objects to is being taken for and being made to look an idiot."
Arguably The Norman Conquests' most famous moment,
the dinner scene during Fancy Meeting You (Table Manners).
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
On the back of The Norman Conquests' success in Scarborough, It would have appeared that both Alan and the Library Theatre's star was on the rise in Scarborough. Yet just a year later, the entire enterprise was on the brink of collapse and Alan was very publicly threatening to leave Scarborough with his company.
It was to be a testing 12 months in which small town politics clashed with regional theatre and from which neither came out unscathed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

News: 6 March 2017

News Round Up:
> Tickets are now on sale for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Winderemere. The revival, directed by Alan, will be running from 6 October to 4 November to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the venue. Bookings and further details can be found at www.oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk.
> Booking is now also open for Alan Ayckbourn's new play and revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer. He will be directing the world premiere of A Brief History of Women and a revival of Taking Steps. He will also be hosting two gala events, A Brief History of Plays, in which he will be celebrating his 60th anniversary with the Scarborough company through reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of his plays. Further details about all these events can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Tickets are now on sale for Alan Ayckbourn's talk at the British Library on Monday 22 May. Eighty Plays On will see the playwright discussing his work and career with Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times. The event is taking place in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library from 7pm and further details and booking information can be found 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, March 3, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1971 - 1972

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: 1971 - 1972
After two years as the annually appointed Director Of Productions at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, Alan took a break in 1971 to head to North America.
The previous year had seen him achieve extraordinary success in the West End with his play How The Other Half Loves and this was his first play to be picked up for transfer to Broadway with a production starring Phil Silvers of television's Sergeant Bilko fame.
Alan Ayckbourn & Phil Silvers during a publicity launch
for How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: To be confirmed
With a need to re-work the script for American audiences - later acknowledged as a major mistake - and a pre-Broadway tour as well as the actual Broadway transfer, Alan decided to concentrate on this production in 1971 and his only major involvement in Scarborough was writing and directing his latest play, Time & Time Again.
This, arguably, is the first of Alan's tragicomic plays and the development of a unique playwriting voice.  It also marked the playwright's recurring interest in water features on stage.
Which was not without consequence.
"It was first produced in Scarborough in 1971, when the in-the-round company were still based at the Library Theatre in amongst the outsize books on the first floor. During the night, after a very happy opening performance, our modest pond leaked slowly through the stage into the Reading Room below, fusing the lights and wrecking the latest copies of Gardeners' Weekly and Bellringers' World."
Time & Time Again also marked the first appearance of what would later be dubbed the 'Ayckbourn Man' with the lead character of Leonard; a protagonist who drives the play through having no kinetic energy whatsoever.
"I wanted to write a total vacuum, a central character who took no decisions, did nothing, everything was done for him and by simply taking no decisions he affects the whole course of the play. Doing nothing, he upsets about five lives. He comes through it in the most extraordinary way; everybody else ends up miserable."
A publicity image for Time & Time Again taken on the roof
of the Library Theatre. Christopher Godwin as Leonard is
pictured centre.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Leonard would also lay the groundwork for one of the archetypal Ayckbourn men who would make their stage debut in 1972 - and be indelibly marked as one of Alan's most famous and hideous creations.
But prior to that, Alan had returned to Scarborough following his sojourn to America where How The Other Half Loves had not been he Broadway success hoped for.
Yet from this disappointment, Alan would enjoy one of the most significant years of his career in theatre as big changes were afoot at the Library Theatre. The previous year had seen Caroline Smith appointed Director Of Productions at the venue, but on 15 January, Scarborough Theatre Trust "agreed unanimously that Alan Ayckbourn be appointed Director of productions for summer season 1972." It was the final time such an annual appointment would be made.
Alan had an ambitious season lined up and an idea for a new play called Absurd Person Singular. Or, more accurately, he had a title for a play - a title discarded from a previously unwritten play and which would have no bearing whatsoever on the play he would actually eventually write.
Unusually, the play was rehearsed not in Scarborough, but initially in London and then in Sheffield, where the company were presenting a pre-Scarborough week-long run of David Campton's Carmilla. There the company met up eager to learn about Alan's new play.
"We had literally started rehearsals before I wrote Absurd Person Singular. I met the cast on a Sunday night in my house and mine was the second play that was going to be rehearsed. I suddenly got nervous, all these actors in the room saying 'I'm dying to read yours' and they're asking me what sort of clothes are they going to need, and I'm saying 'Well, sort of a suit, but it could be a pair of jeans.'"
Alan Ayckbourn stood outside the Library Theatre,
Scarborough, during the summer of 1971.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Which does not sound terribly promising. What emerged though was a classic Ayckbourn play with an iconic central character in the shape of Sidney Hopcroft; a man who as described by Alan Ayckbourn in 1972 seems all too pertinent to the world today.
"If you really want to succeed, you don't have to look any further than the unimaginative, humourless, grabbing sort of guy, the opportunist who does not worry about other people's feelings, who looks neither to the left nor to right. One must be very lucky to not feel."
The play marked a huge step forward for Alan and would later win his first major award with the Evening Standard Award For Best Comedy. It became best known for its formidable second act in which a character is indirectly foiled at several attempts at suicide, the earliest pure example of the 'guilty-laughter' so common in Ayckbourn's plays.
"Dramatically, Eva's suicide scene is one of my first experiments in the use of dramatic counterpoint, i.e. using a deeply serious action against a background of comic events (or is it the other way around?) Both serving to strengthen the other but hopefully neither selling the other short. Jane is just as serious about cleaning her oven as Eva is to commit suicide. It's all a question of priorities."
Absurd Person Singular would go on to become the single most successful Ayckbourn play to be staged in both the West End and on Broadway. Perenially popular, its success was summarised by the noted critic and Ayckbourn biographer, Michael Billington.
"This is the Big One. The one that shows his [Ayckbourn's] fascination with the desperation behind English social rituals interlocking with his well-oiled comic craft.... In this one, form and content meet in perfect harmony."
Absurd Person Singular is the first Ayckbourn play for which
colour photos of the original production exist.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Absurd Person  Singular marked another highpoint in Alan's writing career, but there was more to come that year with one final piece of news to cap off a successful year. An appointment which would dictate the course of his professional life from then to the present.
On 12 November 1972, Scarborough Theatre Trust unanimously agreed that Alan Ayckbourn should be the Artistic Director for the 1973 season; the first time the term Artistic Director had ever been used by the board.
There is no record in the trust's minutes of any other annual vote from that point on. Alan Ayckbourn had fully stepped into Stephen Joseph's shoes and was now responsible for the company Stephen had founded in 1972.
He would guide this company for 37 years. Most importantly, he would preserve, champion and further the legacy of new writing which led Stephen Joseph to create the company and through which - alongside's Stephen's support and encouragement - Alan himself had thrived and achieved extraordinary success.
He was Artistic Director of his own theatre at the age of 33 and on the verge of writing what is probably his most famous work.
A trilogy of plays about an assistant librarian....

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tickets Now On Sale For By Jeeves

Tickets for Alan Ayckbourn's revival of the award-winning and popular musical By Jeeves at The Old Laundry theatre are now on sale.
The playwright is directing his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on the novels of P G Wodehouse, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Old Laundry, Bowness-on-Winderemere.
Tickets are available now for the musical which is running from 6 October to 4 November and can be booked via the theatre's website here.
The venue was founded in 1992 by Alan Ayckbourn's close collaborator, the designer Roger Glossop, who also worked on the original production of By Jeeves. This production will see them reuniting alongside the original choreographer Sheila Carter.
This will be the first major revival of the musical since 2011 and the first time Alan Ayckbourn has directed it in 16 years, when it opened on Broadway. Musical direction will be by Steven Elis, costumes by Caroline Hughes and Lighting by Jason Taylor.
By Jeeves is a musical following the mis-adventures of Bertie Wooster and his man-servant Jeeves as they try and navigate a fraught tale of mistaken identities and mis-matched lovers resulting in confusion, mayhem and fun.