Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ayckbourn Advent Calendar: Day 10

Throughout December, the blog will be celebrating Christmas with an Ayckbourn Advent Calendar. Drawing on items held in the Ayckbourn Archive, it looks at plays set at Christmas, plays premiered during the festive period or just items connected to Christmas. Join us each day from 1 - 24 December for a new item from the archive.

Day 10: Absurd Person Singular
We come to the end of our extended Christmas look at Absurd Person Singular with a key document from the Ayckbourn Archive.
Although Alan had had success in the West End prior to Absurd Person Singular (most notably with Relatively Speaking and How The Other Half Loves), it was Absurd Person Singular which truly made Alan's name in the West End (followed rapidly by the success of The Norman Conquests).
One of the results of this was the accompanying letter from the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Peter Hall, which praises the play and offers an invitation for Alan to work at the National Theatre.
It would be another four years before that came to pass with Alan directing Bedroom Farce (a huge early success for the recently opened South Bank home of the company) in 1977. But it began a relationship which saw Alan direct a number of plays at the venue, become a resident company director between 1986 and 1988 and still have plays revived there - most recently in 2014 with A Small Family Business.
But Alan's long-standing relationship with Peter Hall and the National Theatre began with this letter expressing admiration for Absurd Person Singular.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Unseen Ayckbourn Book Launch

Yesterday saw the official launch of the new edition of the book Unseen Ayckbourn at the playwright's home venue, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
The author and playwright's Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, officially announced Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition to members of the the SJT Circle.
The new edition features both new and updated entries to the book which focuses on Alan Ayckbourn's lost, unpublished and unwritten works.
Simon, who also maintains The Bob Watson Archive at the SJT, was interviewed by Press Officer Jeannie Swales and was delighted with the event.
"This is the first time I've had an actual book launch and to do it in the theatre I love in front of passionate supporters of the Stephen Joseph Theatre was a wonderful experience."
This edition marks the first time Unseen Ayckbourn has featured illustrations with 20 pictures of material drawn from the Ayckbourn Archive, highlighting some of the notes and items which have informed the research of the books.
It includes the playwright's own notes for unwritten plays such as Sight Unseen as well as for early versions of Neighbourhood Watch, Ten Times Table and Sisterly Feelings as well as newspaper articles and concept publicity.
Updated for 2016, the book includes more than 30 new entries relating both to more recent work such as Roundelay, Surprises and My Wonderful Day. Many of the existing entries have been updated with new information as well.
Written by Sir Alan's Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, Unseen Ayckbourn explores the Ayckbourn Archive for withdrawn and lost work, unpublished pieces, alternative versions of existing plays, alternative titles to plays, unused or revised ideas and concept as well as other ephemera.
The previous edition of the book was named as one of The Stage newspaper's Theatre Books of 2013.
Unseen Ayckbourn is priced at £12 and is available via amazon.co.ukLulu Booksamazon.com and Barnes & NobleA PDF ebook is also available from Lulu Books priced at £9.50.
Alternatively signed copies can be obtained by contacting the author at admin@ayckbourn.net which cost £12 plays £2.95 postage and packing; payment can only be made via PayPal.

Ayckbourn Advent Calendar: Day 9

Throughout December, the blog will be celebrating Christmas with an Ayckbourn Advent Calendar. Drawing on items held in the Ayckbourn Archive, it looks at plays set at Christmas, plays premiered during the festive period or just items connected to Christmas. Join us each day from 1 - 24 December for a new item from the archive.

Day 9: Absurd Person Singular
By and large, the screen adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn's plays have been disappointing; the main exception being Alain Resnais's movie adaptations.
On the small screen, the best Ayckbourn adaptations came within a very concentrated period and consist of Absurd Person Singular, Absent Friends and Season's Greetings; all broadcast within a single two year period.
The adaptations were screened on the BBC, were all directed by Michael Simpson and have generally stood the test of time well.
They are also notable for the casts (Julia McKenzie's Diana in Absent Friends stands as one of the finest performances of the role in any medium) and Absurd Person Singular was no exception.
As can be seen from the publicity photographs below, it featured Michael Gambon, Nicky Henson, Maureen Lipman, Geoffrey Palmer, Prunella Scales and Cheryl Campbell.
For Ayckbourn fans*, this is the only place you can see a recording of Michael Gambon perform in an Ayckbourn play. Although Michael did not appear in the original West End production of Absurd Person Singular, he has appeared in more West End productions of Alan's plays than any other actor beginning with The Norman Conquests (1974) and ending with Man Of The Moment (1990).
The cast of the BBC adaptation of Absurd Person Singular.
Copyright: BBC
* The irony here is that's Ayckbourn fans in the USA. For while the BBC adaptation of Absurd Person Singular is legitimately available to stream from www.broadwayhd.com in the USA, it is not available in the UK. Not even from the BBC store....

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Ayckbourn Advent Calendar: Day 8

Throughout December, the blog will be celebrating Christmas with an Ayckbourn Advent Calendar. Drawing on items held in the Ayckbourn Archive, it looks at plays set at Christmas, plays premiered during the festive period or just items connected to Christmas. Join us each day from 1 - 24 December for a new item from the archive.

Day 8: Absurd Person Singular
There is a famous story regarding Alan Ayckbourn's Christmas-set play, Absurd Person Singular, regarding its highly successful Broadway transfer.
Having achieved massive success in the West End - it is still, more than 40 years, the single most successful Ayckbourn production to have played in the West End - it was picked up for a Broadway transfer.
Bizarrely, despite being fully aware of what had been bought and its existing success, the American producers began to insist on some fairly radical changes to the play. Not least the second act be transposed to the final act!
The reasoning was the second act was deemed far funnier. Alan's patient explanation that the play was intended to end on a dying fall was not appreciated and the producers threatened to make the change without his permission or input.
Fortunately, Alan's agent - the legendary Margaret Ramsay - was not one to let her clients be bullied and she was able to throw the producer's own contract back at them which forbade any changes.
Which leads to one of the strangest items in the Ayckbourn archive. Despite being rebuffed for their suggestion, the producers had a professional laugh counter go to an actual production and count the laughs; 'scientifically' divided into 'chuckles', 'Belly-Laughs' and 'Roll-Em In The Aisles'.
The conclusion, apparently proudly presented to Alan, demonstrated there were more laughs in the second act than than the third.
Alan's response was apparently along the lines of, "I know. And your point is?" The original laugh count is held in the Ayckbourn Archive and reproduced below.
Despite the producer's belief the play was there wrong way round, it still stands as the single most successful Ayckbourn production to have ever been staged on Broadway.
Absurd Person Singular on Broadway laugh count.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn