Friday, October 30, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Absurd Person Singular

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Absurd Person Singular (1972)
Absurd Person Singular remains - more than 40 years on - one of Alan Ayckbourn's most popular plays. It is still the most successful Ayckbourn to have been produced in the West End and by far the most successful Ayckbourn play to have been performed on Broadway.
It introduced the first of Ayckbourn's major off-stage characters in Dick & Lottie Potter - so vividly realised that some people have insisted they were a fourth couple on stage - and introduced the world to Sidney & Jane Hopcroft; two characters who are now regarded as epitomising the rise of the Thatcherite values which later that decade changed the face of the country.
It is also the first of Alan Ayckbourn's off-stage plays; he began writing the play set in three living rooms but soon realised that the most interesting action was taking place off-stage in the kitchen (as with any good party!). The location of the play was thus shifted to the three kitchens.
The archival item is taken from the first page of the second draft of the play (sadly the first draft no longer exists) in which the action has been transposed to the kitchen (click on the image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This introduction to the play broadly follows the text which opens the published edition of the play but with several notable alterations. Here we get a description of Jane as 'rather mousey and plain' which is not present in the final text.
Also not present in the play script is the note that Sidney "treats his wife Jane with a sort of hearty, distant manner."
The extensive hand-written notes held for this draft closely reflect the final play, although it is sad from a historical point of view that no drafts exist in which Dick & Lottie Potter are present as an on-stage fourth couple as was the original intent before the action moved to the kitchens.
The notes and early drafts of Absurd Person Singular are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute For Archives at the University Of York.
Further archive articles pertaining to Absurd Person Singular can be found at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website by clicking here.
Absurd Person Singular opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 26 June 1972 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Time And Time Again

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Time And Time Again (1971)
Time And Time Again is credited as being the first of Alan Ayckbourn's tragicomedies and the playwright considers it an important play in his development as a writer; he feels it is his first play where the drama develops entirely from character rather than plot contrivances.
The West End production of the play also began a long and successful collaboration with the producer Michael Codron as well as uniting Alan with the director Eric Thompson, who would direct a number of notable Ayckbourn productions in London including The Norman Conquests.
This week's archival item is a page from an early hand-written draft of the play by Alan Ayckbourn (click on the image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This is a very early - in all likelihood the first - draft of the action in Act II, Scene I where Leonard and Peter play draughts against each other. It's also a fine example of how hard it is to decipher Alan Ayckbourn's handwriting!
Compared to the scene as published, it is notable for several reasons. Most obviously, the entire scene is purely between Leonard and Peter and does not feature Anna and Graham sneaking around the garden spying on the men.
Midway down the page (just after the line break), the draft's dialogue begins to resemble that of the final play with Leonard and Peter realising they are playing an unwinnable game of draughts as one is playing on white squares and the other on black.
Rather than cutting to Anna and Graham observing their laughter at the discovery, the scene as originally written features an extended conversation between the men.

Leonard: Well - you're playing on the white squares - and I'm playing on the black - I can't take you and you can't take me.
Peter: Good lord... (dialogue unreadable)
Leonard: We've invented a new game.
Peter: So we have.
Leonard: Better call it pacifist drafts.
Peter: That's very good - pacifist draughts.

The page is also notable for other reasons too. In the top right of the page is a list of several proposed titles for the play: The Game's The Thing; Plays & Players; The Sporting Gnome and The Garden Pact. It's actually quite rare to find examples of Alan Ayckbourn's thought processes on the titles for his plays.
Finally, in the left-hand margin, you can see some of the many doodles that cover all of Alan Ayckbourn's hand-written drafts. Many of the surviving drafts of his early plays, held by the University of York, feature quite elaborate doodles - obviously an important part of the creative process!
Time And Time Again opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 8 July 1971 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Family Circles

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Family Circles (1970)
Family Circles is one of Alan Ayckbourn's stranger plays. Initially produced as The Story So Far... in Scarborough, it was then revised for two failed attempts to transfer into London's West End (renamed Me Times Me Times Me and later Me Times Me) before undergoing more revisions and becoming Family Circles; apparently the playwright still wasn't happy with the even after all these changes.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
This archival item relates to the original production at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, under the title The Story So Far....
It's an interesting example of what press releases were once like before regional theatre such as the Stephen Joseph Theatre had professional press officers and Communications departments.
The press release, specified for the Scarborough Evening News, was written by the theatre manager Ken Boden and reads more as a personal letter than what would normally be considered a press release; it's perhaps also worrying that Ken obviously believed the Scarborough Evening News was not aware of how popular the Library Theatre was and needed it brought to the publication's attention!
Considering this is a press release, it lacks any pertinent details about the play such as a plot synopsis (although Ken had probably not had time to read the play yet!) or even the dates the production was running.
It's also of particular interest to note that Alan delivered the script for duplication on 3 August with the play opening on 20 August meaning, essentially, two weeks of rehearsal. Alan was notorious for writing to the latest possible deadline (generally as close to rehearsals starting as possible!) until the late 1980s.
Family Circles (The Story So Far...) opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 20 August 1970 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: How The Other Half Loves

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

How The Other Half Loves (1969)
Having achieved initial success in London's West End with Relatively Speaking in 1967, Alan Ayckbourn cemented his reputation in 1970 with the phenomenally successful transfer of How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Like the vast majority of Alan's plays though, How The Other Half Loves opened in Scarborough. It premiered in 1969 at the Library Theatre and was a great success for the venue.
It has been argued that How The Other Half Loves marks the first - certainly well-known - use of an over-lapping set (not a composite set); anyone who has seen or read the play will know that two flats are laid on top of each other so action can take place simultaneously in both flats.
Sadly no plans for the original production survive and only one photograph exists (pictured above) which shows anything substantive of the innovative setting.
The photograph does, significantly, show the pivotal (literally) dinner scene in which two dinners on two different evenings are played simultaneously with two of the characters pivoting on their seats to 'move' between flats and time.
The 'pivot' seats in the photo are those not on the ends of the cross-shaped table; sadly the inventiveness of the set and the play was largely lost in the West End transfer when an ensemble play became dominated by the actor Robert Morley, whose alterations to the script and overwhelming presence proved attractive to audiences but did the play few favours.
The photograph marks a rare early insight into the original production of what has become one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous and successful plays.
How The Other Half Loves opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 31 July 1969 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: The Sparrow

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

The Sparrow (1967)
The Sparrow is the last of Alan Ayckbourn's early 'lost' plays - essentially plays which were withdrawn and have never been produced again after their initial production.
What makes The Sparrow interesting though is, written between Relatively Speaking and How The Other Half Loves, it is not a bad play. It is a very different play to those surrounding it and, as Alan has frequently noted, it essentially got lost amidst the success of Relatively Speaking and all that followed The Sparrow.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
That Alan still hoped there might be interest in The Sparrow can be seen in this letter from 1970 in which the un-named play offered as an alternative to How The Other Half Loves is The Sparrow.
The reasons Alan gives for which it fell by the wayside (with the exception of number four), largely pertain to the issues he had with the producer Peter Bridge, who did actually option it for the West End. The fact it was never produced Alan put down to the fact that Bridge wanted another play like Relatively Speaking (which The Sparrow wasn't) and that he couldn't attract a star cast.
Sadly, neither the recipient of the letter's interest nor Caroline Smith's intended production ever came to fruition and The Sparrow stayed in the 'bottom drawer' and has never been produced since.
It's only public outing since 1967 came in 2014 when Dick & Lottie, the UK's only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays, were given permission to do a rehearsed reading of the play as part of an Ayckbourn Marathon event to mark the company's 10th anniversary.
The Sparrow opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 13 July 1967 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.