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.