Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ayckbourn Moments: Damsels In Distress

Ayckbourn Moments is a monthly feature highlighting photographs held in the Ayckbourn Archive illustrating significant events in Alan Ayckbourn's career.

Damsels In Distress
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust (to be confirmed)
This week in 2001 saw the launch of a new play by Alan Ayckbourn called GamePlan; the first part of a plan to restore a repertory company plan to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
The photograph - sadly not of the greatest quality - is the earliest image held in archive of the Damsels In Distress company which would be the first Scarborough company to entirely transfer into the West End.* It features Alan Ayckbourn (centre) and (left to right) Alison Pargeter, Saskia Butler, Beth Tuckey, Bill Champion, Tim Faraday, Jacqueline King and Robert Austin.
When the photograph was taken though, GamePlan was just one part of a duology alongside FlatSpin and there were no grand intentions for the plays other than a tour. However, during rehearsals for FlatSpin, Alan Ayckbourn announced he had an idea for a third play, RolePlay - utilising the same company and set as GamePlan and FlatSpin if the company were interested.
At this point, the Damsels In Distress trilogy was born which proved to be a huge success in Scarborough with audiences and critics. This response - and the productions are still fondly remembered in Scarborough - led to Alan Ayckbourn taking his Scarborough company to the West End with the trilogy opening at the Duchess Theatre in September 2002.

* To be strictly accurate, Robin Herford and Lavinia Bertram did take the two-hander Intimate Exchanges into London from Scarborough in 1983; but Damsels in Distress was the first time a substantially sized company had transferred en masse to the West End.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Time Of My Life: Inspirations

Alan Ayckbourn's is reviving his 1992 play Time Of My Life this summer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Each week until the blog will be looking behind the scenes of the play at its history.
We continue our exploration of Time Of My Life with Alan Ayckbourtn discussing one of its significant inspirations.

Time Of My Life is essentially a play about how we fail to appreciate the important moments of our life; so obsessed are we with looking back or forwards, we fail to recognise the good times - the time of our lives - as they are happening.
It is also a play which explores time, it shows events past, present and in the future all leading to (or from) a pivotal unseen event. It explores how time can be used on stage, moving backwards, leaping forwards and also present in second-by-second real time.
But here we're looking at a third inspiration - a rare instance where Alan Ayckbourn can point to specific experiences which influenced the writing of a play. It has frequently been noted in books and articles about the playwright, how at restaurants his attention can wander to what is happening on other tables and here, the playwright explains, some of the experiences which influenced Time Of My Life.

"The table next to me is an invaluable source of insights into character. I just can't help it. Inevitably someone, somewhere, is having a more interesting conversation than I might be, and that's not to insult who I'm with!
"Women often seem to use restaurants to talk things over. They know that there's nothing much for men to hide behind except the menu when they ask the inevitable 'What is going to happen to us?'
"It's a situation where people are sitting face to face, in a small space, for a considerable amount of time, with possibly the assistance of alcohol.
"I remember once a man and his wife, or girlfriend, were talking in very low tones which suggested they were having some sort of guerrilla-like argument. He was getting very angry. Then he suddenly leaned right across the table and lowered his voice even further, but just as he spoke the music playing finished and there was a lull in the restaurant. I heard him say: 'Shall I hit you now, or wait until we get home?' It was the most terrifying line I had ever heard.
"Another time, I watched a couple arrive at a restaurant looking happy. Then things started to look grim and suddenly he was gone. She was just left sitting there, with her plate, crying.
"It was as though I had seen a whole relationship disintegrate over dinner."

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn

Time Of My Life is in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 6 June - 4 October, 2013. Further details about the production, schedule and how to book can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ask The Archivist: West End Revivals

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd.
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: admin@alanayckbourn.net (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: With Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking now back in the West End, how many of his other plays have had West End revivals?

Answer: Surprising few, particularly when you consider more than 35 of Alan Ayckbourn's plays have transferred to the West End since 1967.
The first Ayckbourn play to have a West End revival was How The Other Half Loves in 1988. This had originally been staged in 1970 at the Lyric and in 1988, the Greenwich Theatre's production of the play transferred to the Duke Of York's Theatre marking the first West End revival of an Ayckbourn play.
Since then Absurd Person Singular has been revived twice (1990 at the Whitehall and 2007 at the Garrick) and Bedroom Farce has also been revived twice (2002 at the Aldwych and 2007 at the Duke Of York's).
In 2008, The Norman Conquests trilogy was famously revived at the Old Vic and the following year Woman In Mind was revived at the Vaudeville Theatre; the same venue where the original London production was held in 1986. Season's Greetings was notably revived at the National Theatre in 2010.
Last year (2012) saw two further revivals with Absent Friends and A Chorus Of Disapproval both revived at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Which brings us to 2013 and the current revival of Relatively Speaking at Wyndham's Theatre. This means 11 of Alan Ayckbourn's plays have had West End revivals.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: admin@alanayckbourn.net  labelled Ask The Archivist.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Time Of My Life: 10 Facts

With Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his 1992 play opening on 6 June, the blog will be taking a weekly look behind the scenes of the play looking at its history.
We begin our exploration of Time Of My Life with 10 facts about the play.

Time Of My Life: 10 Facts
1) Time Of My Life is Alan Ayckbourn's 44th play.
2) The world premiere was held at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 21 April, 1992.
3) The London premiere was held at the Vaudeville Theatre on 3 August 1993.
4) The original London production in 1993 marked the first time (excluding the West End production of Intimate Exchanges - although that only had two actors) that a West End production featured the majority of the cast from the world premiere production in Scarborough. Only the two lead roles were recast and that purely to have recognised 'named actors' on the billboards.
5) The play was inspired by Alan Ayckbourn's experiences observing people at other tables in restaurants and also by J.W. Priestley's 'time' plays.
Alan Ayckbourn and the 2013 Time Of My Life company at the first read-through.
Copyright: James Drawneek
6) The play has three strands to it: the first moves forward in two hours of real time from the play's opening scene; the second moves backwards two months; the third moves forward over two years. This puts the audience in a privileged position of knowing information about the characters they do not yet know.
7) It is one of Alan Ayckbourn's rare plays which is identifiably set in the north of England. Other northern plays include Haunting Julia and A Chorus Of Disapproval (despite the latter being set in the normally Southern fictional town of Pendon).
8) Although not specifically written for the round (unlike Taking Steps), it is a play which Alan Ayckbourn believes is best suited to performance in the round.
9) Time Of My Life is deliberately written so that one actor plays the restauranteur Calvinu as well as his four sons. It reflects Alan Ayckbourn's earlier play A Small Family Business in which one actor played all the Rivetti Brothers.
10) The predominant theme of the play is people tend to spend far more time looking forwards or backwards in their lives and do not tend to recognise the moments of happiness when they occur (the time of our lives) because of this.

Time Of My Life is in repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 6 June - 4 October, 2013. Further details about the production, schedule and how to book can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: Gaslight

In the run-up to Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in April 2014, a monthly feature reproduces articles by the playwright highlighting his life in theatre through the years.
Last month we looked at Alan Ayckbourn's thoughts on writing a first play to tie in with the premiere of his first professional play, The Square Cat, in 1959. This month we move forward to 1961 when Alan made his debut as a professional director with the play Gaslight. This article by Alan was written for the Gaslight programme.

During the six years of the Library Theatre's existence, it has been part of our experiment to try to discover what factors contribute towards making the ideal theatre in the round play. With what limited resources we have, we have tried to include the greatest variety open to us; besides which we have no fewer than three writers working with the company and, at the moment, tackling this very problem. For we are the first to admit that some plays work better in this medium than others; though, considering the widely contrasting number we have staged, it is surprising that more of them have not failed to adapt.
Certainly, at first sight, a Victorian thriller did not seem ideal "round" material. Here, it appeared, was the stuff that the proscenium theatre is made of and flourished on.
It took only one or two rehearsals to dispel this illusion. Here was a play that was going to thrive on the intimate atmosphere of our theatre. Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight, ever since its successful first London production in 1938, with Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Dennis Arundell and Milton Rosmer in the leading roles, and its subsequent record-breaking run in New York with Vincent Price, has been acclaimed as a brilliant exercise in theatrical suspense.
We feel confident that we can bring you all the thrills that this play contains in our own production, plus that extra excitement which we feel theatre in the round has to offer.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.