Friday, January 29, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Sisterly Feelings

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.

Sisterly Feelings (1979)
Sisterly Feelings was Alan Ayckbourn's first 'chance' play in which an element of chance is incorporated into the play and affects the course of the action.
In this case, the flip of a coin at the end of scene 1 determines which of two following scenes take place. Other 'chance' plays include It Could Be Any One Of Us and Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays; although not Intimate Exchanges which Alan describes as a 'choice' play as although the action can be different each night, the decisions are taken prior to rather than during the performance.
The template for Intimate Exchanges though came with Alan's early ideas for Sisterly Feelings and how far he could incorporate chance into a play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The first archive item above (click on image to enlarge) shows an early idea for the structure of Sisterly Feelings. Although it looks like a mathematical formula, it is actually a play structure with four scenes with each scene having a choice of two outcomes leading to a possible eight variations (Intimate Exchanges utilises the same structure but with a coda which takes the outcome to 16 possible variations).
For those wondering what the letters mean in the diagrams above, the names had not yet been decided on so we have Girl A (GA), Girl B (GB) etc alongside Male A (MA), Male B (MB) etc.
The lower diagram explores the action of the first scene with Girl A going with either Male A or Male B whilst the parents are Girl C and Male D with another couple, Girl D and Male E being the constant couple of the play.
This article is notable for also showing Alan's original idea for the company - given the theatre had a consistent repertory company at the time and how close to deadline Alan was writing his plays, he tended to know in advance who would be available.
So in the circled area we have Bate (James Bate), Bower (Robin Bowerman), Herf (Robin Herford), Murf (Robin Murphy); Stan (Stanley Page), Terry (unknown), Bridge (Judy Bridgland), Al (Alison Skilbeck), Lav (Lavinia Bertram), Shel (Shelagh Stuttle). All these actors were in the premiere production alongside John Arthur and Christopher Gray.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The second image (click to enlarge) fleshes out the bare-bones idea of the note above and we see there are now character names - most of which survive to the final play; aside from Donald which is replaced by Stafford.
This is the final note in existence relating to the more complex structure of the play which would be altered to a simpler structure with a common opening scene, choice of two second scenes, choice of two third scenes and a common final scene for the final play.
As ever with Alan Ayckbourn, nothing is ever thrown away though and this idea for a continually branching play would resurface three years later in Intimate Exchanges.
Sisterly Feelings opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 10 January 1979 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Joking Apart

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.

Joking Apart (1978)
In 1978, Alan Ayckbourn premiered his latest play Joking Apart. In interviews since then the has spoken about how the play had two major inspirations.
The first was a conversation with an audience member who complained that none of his plays featured happy, contented couples. Of course, as Alan noted, content couples are not the stuff of drama but it made him wonder whether it was possible to write about a 'perfect' couple by exploring what effect they would have on those around them.
The second inspiration was his eldest son reaching the age of 18 and Alan becoming aware of the passage of time. This apparently inspired the decision to set the play over an extended time period of 12 years to see how time affects people and their relationships.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The first of two archive items held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York shows a note (click on image to enlarge) by Alan Ayckbourn for an early idea for the play. Notably this does not suggest the 'golden' couple which stand at the centre of the finished play.
The note reads:

Man in love (divorcee)?
Woman he loves married to strong man - who mistreats her (collapses?)
Man's biz [business] partner - neurotic
His wife - stronger

From that description, really only the business partner bears much resemblance to a figure in the finished play, where Sven is definitely neurotic.
The second item comes from a later set of notes and this does resemble the final play with Alan breaking down the four scenes of the play and also how the characters age from one scene to the next over a dozen years.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This note (click on image to enlarge) shows the play's basic structure in place. Two acts with four scenes each set four years apart. Only the second scene offers an indication of when during the year the scenes are set with a note for a 'summer barbecue'. In the final play, each scene takes place during a celebration of some sort (Bonfire night, a summer lunch party, Boxing Day and an 18th birthday celebration).
The table on the right shows the ages of the characters throughout the play with most off the names obviously now set (R - Richard; A - Anthea; H - Hugh; L - Louise; S - Sven; O - Olive; B - Brian; G's - presumably 'girls' who will later be named Melody, Mandy, Mo and Debbie). Note how the four 'G's' - Brian's girlfriends - get younger as everyone else gets older.
Joking Apart opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 12 January 1978 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Ten Times Table

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.

Ten Times Table (1977)
In September 1976, the Library Theatre in Scarborough closed after 20 years of operation. The venue where Stephen Joseph had set up the country's first professional in-the-round company and where Alan Ayckbourn's first play was staged, had been outgrown by the company. A new - then believed temporary - home was found at the former Westwood County Modern School in the town and 60 days after the Library Theatre closed, Theatre In The Round at Westwood (later renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round) opened.
Although the venue opened with an Ayckbourn play, this was not a new play but a revival of Mr Whatnot; a play not previously produced in Scarborough. It would be January 1977 before Alan unleashed his new play, apparently inspired by the many tedious meetings endured as the future home of the theatre had been debated in the preceding years.
Ten Times Table though is notorious for not being the play that Alan Ayckbourn originally set out to write. He apparently wrote more than half of the play before realising it was not proceeding as planned, leading him to throw away half of what he had written!
Unusually for an Ayckbourn play, a substantial amount of hand-written notes for Ten Times Table have survived and are held by the Ayckbourn Archive at the University of York. Many of which offer an insight into the original concept for the play, which was significantly different to what was eventually written.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
 The first archive image (click on image to enlarge) offers a look at the original characters for the play - including a lost character.
The characters are listed as: Lawrence (teacher); Eric & Phillippa (Lawrence's teacher colleagues & friends); Ray & Helen (an Oxfam worker and Doctor, also Lawrence's friends); Donald & Audrey (Charlotte's friend and her husband); Tim & Sophy (Lawrence's sister-in-law and brother in law, described as 'miserable sods'). Finally we have Lawrence's wife, Charlotte.
The role of Charlotte was to be played by Alan Ayckbourn's partner (and now wife) Heather Stoney. However, she was somewhat surprised to learn several days before rehearsals began that - as Alan dictated the play for her to type up! - the character of Charlotte had been removed from the play following his major rewrite of the play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The significance of this change can be seen in the second image (click to enlarge) in which Charlotte features prominently (in what appears to be two ideas for the plot of the play) and it seems highly likely the original idea featured flashbacks to the relationship between Lawrence and Charlotte.
Both of these ideas also feature a character called Grace, who becomes Audrey fun the final play. Some of the other notes and ideas for Ten Times Table can be found in the Archive and Behind The Scenes pages at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website.
Just for note, as Charlotte's character was excised from the play, another character had to be added (given the play's need for 10 people) and she was replaced by Max - who makes a brief but memorable appearance near the conclusion of the play. It's also worth saying that the unusual spelling of Sophy - found throughout the early notes - was eventually replaced by the common spelling of the name.
Ten Times Table opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 18 January 1977 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Just Between Ourselves

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.

Just Between Ourselves (1976)
Just Between Ourselves was the final play written by Alan Ayckbourn to have its world premiere at the Library Theatre in Scarborough; the original home of the company founded by Stephen Joseph in 1955.
The play was inarguably the darkest piece the playwright had yet written with the play famously ending with the wife of its leading character in a catatonic state.
Despite this, the playwright had even darker intentions for the play, which were toned down as the play began to take shape (some of the original ideas for the play can be seen at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here).
The difference in several of the characters from their conception to the final play can be seen below with early descriptions of Dennis, Vera and Neil (click on the image to enlarge).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
For those struggling to decipher Alan's handwriting, here's a transcription:

Dennis: The dominant, the ambitious - always a helping hand for his friends - dissolution into manic depressive. The repercussions he causes.
His wife - Vera?: Who bears the brunt of his variations. What starts as a game (her clumsiness and general dimness) finishes on a total loss of self confidence and neurosis - inability to cope with him. Wanting a way out and nowhere to go.
Neil: Dennis's partner in business. Actually his brother-in-law with a little nest egg that Dennis persuades him to invest in his firm. He loses this and a lot more besides (suicide?) Neurotic, pill taker - Vera's brother - out of the same mould.

As can be seen, the characters have substantial differences. In the final play Neil is not related to Dennis or Vera and is just interested in buying the eponymous car which dominates the set.
Dennis's perpetual cheery state from the play is not readily apparent in these notes although his treatment of Vera is very familiar; the manic depressive aspect was also dropped.
Vera is the most familiar of the three characters although the reference to her wanting a way out is not explicit in the play - she instead hopes Dennis will help her as she spirals towards her tragic conclusion.
The document, held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York is a fascinating insight into how characters develop from initial ideas into those found in the actual plays.
Just Between Ourselves opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 28 January 1976 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.