Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn's Latest Play Heading To New York

Alan Ayckbourn is returning to the Brits Off Broadway festival in New York in 2016 with his latest play and a revival of a classic.
Hero's Welcome
Following a UK tour, the playwright's most recent work, Hero's Welcome, and his acclaimed revival of his classic 1974 play Confusions will head to the 59E59 Theaters from week of 25 May to 3 July.
Alan Ayckbourn's productions have been highly acclaimed at the Brits Off Broadway starting with Private Fears In Public Places in 2005. This will be the playwright's sixth visit to the festival.
Writer and director Alan Ayckbourn said: “A chance to see, for those who doubt it (!) how my work has changed over 40 years. I must say, I hardly recognised myself...”
New York marks the culmination of a UK tour for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, with Hero's Welcome and Confusions
The plays will tour to Guildford, Cambridge, Bath, Windsor, Eastbourne and Malvern from January to March before heading to the Brits off Broadway Festival in New York in the summer.
Confusions
The Confusions cast features Stephen Billington and Emma Manton in their company debuts alongside company veterans Russell Dixon, Richard Stacey and Elizabeth Boag.
The cast also appear in Hero’s Welcome with a sixth company member, Evelyn Hoskins who now joins the tour, having made her SJT debut in the musical adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's The Boy Who Fell Into A Book in 2014.
 The 2016 tour begins at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (13 – 23 January), followed by Cambridge Arts Theatre (1-6 February), Theatre Royal Windsor (8 – 13 February), Theatre Royal Bath (15-20 February), Eastbourne Theatres (22-27 February) and Malvern Theatres (29 February - 5 March).
Tickets for Confusions and Hero’s Welcome for all UK venues can be booked through the Stephen Joseph Theatre website at www.sjt.uk.com.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Bedroom Farce

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.

Bedroom Farce (1975)
Bedroom Farce celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and remains notable not only as one of Alan's Ayckbourn's most consistently popular plays over the past four decades, but also as his inaugural play at the National Theatre.
Alan began work on the play during the short West End run of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's ill-fated musical Jeeves; the earliest existing reference to Bedroom Farce is a sketch on the back of a Jeeves rehearsal manuscript (which can be seen at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here).
Originally, the play featured four couples and four bedrooms which was refined over time to four couples and three bedrooms, meaning one couple is constantly disrupting the lines of the other couples.
Like the vast majority of his plays, Bedroom Farce was premiered in Scarborough (although it had been commissioned by the National Theatre, which gave Alan dispensation to stage it in Scarborough first) and in this case at the Library Theatre. It was intended to be performed in the round as the sketch by the playwright below shows (click on image to enlarge).

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
As can be seen, we have the three bedrooms all pointing inwards along with the various props for each room. However this set design was never utilised.
Alan apparently had not quite realised just how big double beds were and the difficulties they would present in the Concert Room space at the Library Theatre!
As a result, the set was redesigned to be presented three-sided in the Library Theatre, so - uniquely - this was a play commissioned for the end-stage by the National Theatre but intended to first open in-the-round in Scarborough, but where it had to be performed three-sided as the image below shows (click to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Alan Ayckbourn would not actually get a chance to direct Bedroom Farce in-the-round until he revived it at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2000.
Bedroom Farce opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 16 June 1975 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

This is the final Archiving Ayckbourn feature of 2015, we'll be resuming with Just Between Ourselves on Friday 8 January 2016.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Jeeves

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.

Jeeves (1975)
Jeeves is - 40 years on - still one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most infamous creations.
This was a musical written with Andrew Lloyd Webber which even today remains as one of the West End’s legendary flops, closing after less than a month following an extraordinarily torrid journey to the stage.
The musical itself was salvaged and regained respectability twenty years after it opened when Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber revamped and rewrote it as By Jeeves; but Jeeves itself still remains an object of great interest.
Of the many tales associated with the play, Archiving Ayckbourn will focus on just the one this week with a rare peek at the original hand-written draft of a song which never made it to the West End and has rarely been heard (or, in this case, seen). Click on the image below to enlarge it.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Click on image to enlarge
This is Alan Ayckbourn’s original draft for a completed song, then known as Dahlia’s Song, which was sung by Bertie’s Wooster’s aunt Dahlia.
This was the fifth song in the second hand-written draft of the musical (the earliest extant draft of the musical available) where it is called Aunt Dahlia (Menu Song).
By the first typed draft of the musical - entitled An Evening With Bertram Wooster - the song’s title had now changed to Food’s Old Sweet Song and is now the evening's fourth song with four songs having been cut from the original draft.
Between rehearsals and the original pre-West End production at the Bristol hippodrome, the title is again changed to Food Of Love.
The song itself introduced a major sub-plot in Jeeves which sees Aunt Dahlia forcing Bertie to recover a contract that ties her beloved chef to the nefarious villain, Spode.
The role of Dahlia was a small part, but a star one with the actress Betty Marsden cast in the role. She, along with Michael Aldridge, get top-billing on posters and flyers for the Bristol run of the musical.
Famously, the opening night at the Bristol Hippodrome ran more than three-and-half-hours and when the orchestra walked out near the end (having played for the contractually agreed maximum amount of time), the conductor had to dive into the pit and keep playing on the piano!
The next day, it was decided major cuts had to be made. Including losing one of the stars of the show. The character of Dahlia and her entire subplot were removed by Alan in order to reduce the running time. With it went the song, which was only ever heard by the public briefly at Bristol Hippodrome.
Betty Marsden, as one might imagine, was not best pleased by the decision - but given the fate of the musical, she probably got the best of a bad situation.
These notes alongside many of the other hand-written Jeeves lyrics are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York.
Jeeves opened at the Bristol Hippodrome on 22 March 1975 before transferring to Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 22 April 1975, and was directed by Eric Thompson. More details about the musical can be found here.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Archiving Ayckbourn: Confusions

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.

Confusions (1974)
Confusions was the second play Alan Ayckbourn wrote in 1974 as a result of needing a piece to launch winter touring from Scarborough's Library Theatre, whilst unable to revive his earlier play, Absent Friends, due to it being optioned for the West End.
Confusions consists of five short one act plays for a company of five actors, playing 20 different roles. One of the motivations for writing the play was the chance to highlight the talents of his acting company at the time.
The starting point of the play was an existing one act play, Mother Figure, with Alan writing another four plays to accompany it; originally Alan planned to have Confusions consist of six plays rather than five.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The image above (click on image to enlarge) shows Alan developing the structure of the play as well as the relationships between the characters and showing how each play is subtly linked to the other.
The notes at the top relate to what Alan refers to as the 'Dining Room' play further down in the notes, but which we now know as Between Mouthfuls. On the left hand side we have Emma & Donald Pearce and on the right Polly and Martin Chalmers; the notes reveal all the salient points of the final plot are in place with Donald and Polly having an affair whilst Emma realises her husband is having a 'thing' with someone and Martin is 'self-centred about his own career.'
The centre of the notes on the left hand side features the five actors: Stan (Stanley Page), Chris (Christopher Godwin), Stephen (Stephen Mallatratt), Lucy (the only person not cast at that point and which would eventually be Janet Dale) and Eileen (Eileen O'Brien).
Next to it is the structure of the five plays with the name of the relevant characters in each play and how they connect. At this point the plays - aside from Mother Figure - do not have names. We have Bar (Drinking Companion), Dining Room (Between Mouthfuls), Tent (Gosforth's Fete) and Park (A Talk In The Park).
Beneath that, we have the character names for Gosforth's Fete starting with Gordon Gosforth - 'the organiser publican'.
It's worth noting that at this stage of writing, only the first four plays are indicated as being connected: Lucy to Harry (Wife & Husband) connecting Mother Figure and Drinking Companion; the same waiter connecting Drinking Companion and Between Mouthfuls; Emma Pearce connecting Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth's Fete. At this point, there is no link between Gosforth's Fete and A Talk In The Park which will later be the most subtle of connections with Doreen being the ex-wife of Gosforth.
Confusions opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 30 September 1974 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn Articles / Interviews On Website

Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website has launched a new section collecting articles by and about Alan Ayckbourn alongside interviews with the playwright.
More than 200 articles have been brought together in the new Articles / Research section of www.alanayckbourn.net covering a wide spectrum of subjects.
From Alan Ayckbourn writing about his first job to his love of Scarborough or the playwright's view on dozens of his plays, the section offers a comprehensive insight into the author's thoughts during the past 50 years.
The section also includes articles about Alan Ayckbourn and his plays by the playwright's archivist and website founder, Simon Murgatroyd, looking at both specific plays as well as Ayckbourn's work in a wider context.
Finally, an interview section has been included predominantly drawing on interviews between Simon Murgatroyd and Alan Ayckbourn but also with fascinating pieces such as the first published interview  with Alan Ayckbourn in 1963 and the complete transcription of Alan Yentob's interview for the BBC programme Imagine - including much of what was cut from the 2011 programme.
This section will be expanded in the coming months with more articles and interviews. You can begin reading the articles by clicking here.