Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Confusions & Hero's Welcome To Tour

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play as well as his acclaimed revival of a classic play are to tour later this year.
The world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Hero's Welcome and the revival of his 1974 classic Confusions, both directed by Alan Ayckbourn and featuring the Stephen Joseph Theatre company, will visit two in-the-round venues.
The plays will be performed in repertory at the New Vic Theatre from 6 - 24 October and at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, from 3 - 14 November.
This follows their runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre where Confusions is running until 26 September and where the world premiere of Hero's Welcome runs between 4 September - 3 October.
The two plays have also been confirmed as touring to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from 13 - 23 January, 2016, directed for the end-stage by Alan Ayckbourn.
Further details can be found at the SJT, the New Vic, The Old Laundry and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre websites.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Birthday SJT & Personal Ayckbourn favourites

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, which Alan Ayckbourn has been associated with for the past 58 years.
All but four of his plays have premiered at the Scarborough theatre in its three homes and he was Artistic Director between 1972 and 2009. Its founder, Stephen Joseph, is also Alan Ayckbourn's most influential and important mentor.
It is also the theatre where I saw my first Ayckbourn play in 1987 with Henceforward... and which has had a huge impact on my life ever since from journalist to Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist today.
To mark the 60th anniversary and the huge impact the SJT has had on my life, I've chosen 10 of my favourite Ayckbourn productions since my first n 1987. You can read about my other top ten SJT plays at the Scarborough In The Round blog here.
So here's a personal list of some of my favourite Ayckbourn memories at the SJT since 1987. Happy birthday Stephen Joseph Theatre!

A Personal List Of Favourite Ayckbourn Productions (1987 - present)
1) Henceforward... (1987): This is what all comes back to, my first Ayckbourn play. The world premiere production, directed by Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in The Round, launching a life-long obsession with the playwright (and which eventually brought gainful employment rather than a restraining order). To a 16 year old geek, this was proof that theatre could easily match cinema and prose: a nihilistic, sci-fi set in a dystopian future, utilising the latest technology (strange to think sampling was once hi-tech) in which, essentially, everyone dies (logically no-one survives the aftermath of the play). It was also tremendously funny and well acted. I still remember walking home and 10 minutes in turning to thinking, "I can't believe what I was just laughing at." My first experience of Ayckbourn tragi-comedy at some of its finest.

2) Haunting Julia (1994): Haunting Julia has long been one of my favourite Ayckbourn plays, even though it's a lesser known one. Partly because it's one of the playwright's few works to be set in Yorkshire and featuring a distinctly Yorkshire lead (Joe, harking from Otley near to where I was born). But I think mainly because it is a play with just three men but in which three women who are never seen are beautfilly drawn and have a huge precense (literally in one case) in the play. It's portrayal of the relationship between a father and daughter is also hugely affecting and the play unfolds tremendously well. Layers reveal layers as we begin to appreciate the tragedy of what happened to Julia and her inevitable 'return'. The moment at the climax where the bed began to bleed (alongside a chill-inducing performance in the original by Ian Hogg) is an image which I've never forgotten.

3) Just Between Ourselves (1996): I was relatively late in appreciating what many people consider Alan Ayckbourn's classic early plays (I only really understood just how good The Norman Conquests was following the Old Vic's 2008 revival) and this production, directed by Robin Herford, made me realise just how amazing the early plays were. It probably also stands as one of the bleakest Ayckbourn productions I've ever seen with the final image of the comatose Vera being sung Happy Birthday extraordiarily affecting (particularly as we, the audience, have been complicit in laughing at her earlier in the play). The splendid tea-making scene was directed and played so well that it actually became painful laughing. The final production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was also one of the most memorable to me.

4) By Jeeves (1996): And the first at the new Stephen Joseph Theatre was equally memorable but for entirely different reasons. From the tragicomic pain of Just Between Ourselves, we moved to the inspired lunacy of Ayckbourn meeting Wodehouse with this delightfully silly musical which was the perfect way to open the new home of the company. Perfectly cast (has there been a better stage interpretation of Jeeves than Malcolm Sinclair?), this was a jubilant production celebrating a key moment in the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

5) House & Garden (1999): The final play I reviewed for the Scarborough Evening News - and possibly a good thing as what could top it? Practically every major critic of the period attended the production (I suspect the last time the SJT ever managed to attract so many first tier critics for a premiere) for this mind-bending production in which two plays are performed simultaneously in two different auditoria with the same cast. As an actor leaves the 'house' they re-appeared on another stage in the 'garden' and vice versa. Alan has always been a fan of event theatre - those moments when live theatre does something no other medium can - and this was truly an event and showed the SJT at its best and most ambitious. A wonderful memory.

6) Damsels In Distress (2001): Another slight cheat (after all House & Garden were two plays and Damsels In Distress is three), but it's hard to separate the Damsels trilogy from one another. Seen separately, GamePlan, FlatSpin and RolePlay are all excellent plays but seen together (as the SJT did on occasions during the original run with all three plays in on day), you got a chance to appreciate the skills of the actors and the cleverness of the writing and thematic links between the plays. RolePlay still stands out as the star of the trilogy but Alison Pargeter and Saskia Butler in GamePlan were a revelation, a superbly funny double act as school girls well out of their depth. Damsels was always rumoured to have been created out of a need to save money for the SJT (three plays, one set, one company of seven actors) and it demonstrated just how creative and inventive the SJT could be when its back was against the wall.

7) My Sister Sadie (2003): I've always been a big fan of Alan Ayckbourn;'s family plays and Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays is one of the great plays for young people. But my personal favourite is his penultimate - as of writing - family play, My Sister Sadie. Essentially a companion piece to Comic Potential, it deals with a the hunt for a military android which is more than it seems and is adopted by a rural family suffering the loss of their daughter. Its themes would be ambitious for an adult play - morality, family loss, what makes us human, the use and abuse of technology - but that they are packed into a fast-moving family play shows Ayckbourn at the top of his game. Packed full of film references from The Terminator to Blade Runner to, this is a sadly under-appreciated Ayckbourn work that deserves more recognition. It also featured an exceptional lighting design by Kath Geraghty.

8) Private Fears In Public Places (2004): One of my all-time favourite Ayckbourn plays, Private Fears In Public Places looked at what it is to be a 30-something in the city in the new millennium. A play of tremendous sadness and loneliness, it also had a wicked sense of humour with unexpected twists and turns. Its structure of 54 scenes played without an interval showed Alan Ayckbourn still pushing himself in new directions thematically and technically. It also arguably has the best filmed adaptation of an Ayckbourn play with Alain Resnais's excellent film adaptation. It's also the only Ayckbourn play I've seen directed by someone other than Ayckbourn and matching the power of the original with Laurie Sansom's extraordinary 2009 production at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton. An excellent amateur production - recently seen by the playwright himself - is also currently touring by Huddersfield's Dick & Lottie.

9) My Wonderful Day (2009): It's always difficult to imagine certain plays being produced again when the original has had a definitive performance - Janie Dees performance as Jacie in Comic Potential being one. My Wonderful Day's original production had an extraordinary and utterly convincing performance by 28 year old Ayesha Antoine as 11 year old Winnie and her experiences of a very unusual day. That is not is not to say she dominated the play, as always in Ayckbourn plays it is an ensemble cast that makes the play work, but Winnie who is never off-stage and through whose eyes we see the play is an extraordinary character even when she is the unspeaking, unnoticed (by the characters at least) third person in the room. An exceptional production at the SJT.

10) Arrivals & Departures (2013): It's extremely difficult picking just 10 Ayckbourn productions at the SJT of note over the past 28 years, but this is recent play is a deserving addition. Another fine example of Ayckbourn experimenting with structure and preconceptions; it starts as one play (almost a farce) and becomes something else entirely before performing an audacious trick at the start of the second half by repeating what we've already seen but from a slightly different perspective. The play ends with what is nothing less than punch to the gut and is one of the saddest and affecting conclusions to a play yet written by Ayckbourn. That within two hours we can go from farce to tragedy without questioning it and come to know two characters who, sadly, never come to know each other despite spending the play together is a testament not only to a great play but a great writer constantly trying to push himself and his plays in new directions.

Honorable mentions must also go to: The Revengers' Comedies (1989); Wildest Dreams (1991); Things We Do For Love (1997); Comic Potential (1998); Orvin - Champion Of Champions (2003); The Champion Of Paribanou (2005); Intimate Exchanges (2006); How The Other Half Loves (2009); Dear Uncle (2011); Absurd Person Singular (2012).

For my list of non-Ayckbourn plays at the SJT, visit the Scarborough In The Round blog here.

Simon Murgatroyd is Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist and the creator and administrator of his official website www.alanayckbourn.net. He is also the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Archivist and runs the website Scarborough In The Round at www.theatre-in-the-round.co.uk.