Friday, March 18, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Making Tracks

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.

Making Tracks (1981)
Making Tracks was the second full-length musical collaboration between Alan Ayckbourn and Paul Todd following the success of the 1980 musical Suburban Strains.
One of the issues which arose from Suburban Strains (and which has vexed Alan across many of his musicals) is where to put the musical accompaniment in-the-round without interrupting the action or being intrusive.
For Making Tracks, he solved the problem by integrating the musicians into the play itself, which is set in a recording studio. The play was also inspired by Alan's own work as a Radio Producer for the BBC during the 1960s.
Within the Ayckbourn Archive at the University of York, there is an illustration by Alan Ayckbourn of his original design for the set for the play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
This note (click on image to enlarge) features the layout of the set featuring the sound-box (allowing characters to talk without being heard by other characters in the studio (at the top with the mixing desk visible) as well as the placement of the band, such as the piano (bottom right corner). It is very close to the actual set as produced.
On the right hand side of the page is a list of the songs as originally conceived for the musical, which went through a number of changes between then and the actual production.
The first act songs are listed as: Childrens' Eyes; Alright For Level; Waltz; She Writes The Word; Here We Go.
The actual first act song titles were: Childrens' Eyes; Alright For Level; Recording You; Words & Music; Words & Music reprise.
The second act songs as listed were: Job Swap; Medley; Side A; Showbiz Wife; Not A Star; Making Tracks.
The actual second act song titles were: We Are A Group; She Hasn’t Got It; Someone Wrong; Backing Vocals; Not For Sandy; Making Tracks.
As can be seen, Act II in particular bears little resemblance to the actual produced play. Despite being a hit in two separate Scarborough productions and a very successful run at the Greenwich Theatre, Making Tracks is one of the least well-known of Alan Ayckbourn's plays and because of this limited exposure, little is held about it in archive.
Making Tracks opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 16 December 1981 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Two Alan Ayckbourn world premieres for 2016

Alan Ayckbourn will unveil two world premieres and a classic revival as part of the just announced Summer Festival of entertainment by the Stephen Joseph Theatre for summer 2016.
The Karaoke Theatre Company
The first of the new works will be the world premiere of The Karaoke Theatre Company - in The Round on various dates from Friday 8 July to Friday 7 October. Presented by Pendon Productions in association with Alan Ayckbourn, it promises to be a slick, fast-moving concoction of farce, comedy, drama and melodrama, all topped off with a dash of good old-fashioned stage magic, featuring an inventive and versatile company. Or maybe not…
This will be joined in September with the return of an Ayckbourn classic to The Round. Henceforward… in the Round on various dates from Thursday 8 September to Saturday 8 October. This is set in a dystopian future where Jerome, a composer, is trying to complete his masterwork whilst simultaneously retrieving his daughter from his hostile ex-wife. Henceforward… was premiered at Scarborough in 1987; the subsequent 1988 production at London’s Vaudeville Theatre, starring Ian McKellen and Jane Asher, won the Evening Standard Best Comedy Award.
Henceforward...
The season is rounded off by another Ayckbourn world premiere. Consuming Passions is a comedy in two parts – Premonitions and Repercussions – which can be seen as separate, approximately 50-minute shows in the SJT’s Bistro at lunchtimes from Friday 5 August to Thursday 8 September, or as an evening double bill in the McCarthy from Friday 16 September to Saturday 8 October.
Sir Alan Ayckbourn will also be talking about his writing in a Teatime Talk on Thursday 29 September at 4.30pm with tickets at £6.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre's Summer Festival will also include the world premiere of The National Joke(8 June - 20 August) by Torben Betts, author of West End hit Invincible. Just So Stories (2 July - 27 August) is the world premiere adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic by one of this country’s leading exponents of family theatre, Vicky Ireland. This brand new version of the much-loved tales, is suitable for those aged six and upwards. The final production of the season is The World Goes ‘Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb (28 July - 3 September). Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson, this show features much-loved show-stoppers like New York, New York, All That Jazz, and Money, Money.
To book tickets and for further information on the Summer Festival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, visit www.sjt.uk.com or call the box office on 01723 370541. Booking opens on Friday 18 March.
Further details of these plays can also be found via the Plays section of Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Way Upstream

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.

Way Upstream (1981)
Way Upstream is one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous creations in which he pushed the technical possibilities of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in Scarborough to their limits.
And arguably pushed past the technical limitations of the National Theatre in the process!
The play premiered in 1981 in Scarborough and featured a river cruiser on a water-filled stage, capable of movement and enduring a rain storm! It was unashamedly ambitious, hugely theatrical and was a huge success.
Within the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York can be found some early notes for the play, which have considerable differences to the final plot - although much is recognisable from the final play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
 The notes (click on the image to enlarge) are handwritten by Alan Ayckbourn and read as follows:

Adam Wingate married Edie [note how the name June has been erased]
Adam & Edie known each other since school. Went into show biz with a 2 boy 2 girl singing group The Ginger Nuts. Semi-pro. Folded after disastrous season in Torquay. Edie's sister got married had children. Other boy, Donnie, went solo for a bit. Disappeared.
Now Edie, Alistair and Keith are co-partners in Tayl-Gate Novelty Company.
Edie & A have slipped apart. A relationship with no go. Both in the doldrums. Sexless and barren. Without love E blames A; lack of drive.

Keith Taylor married to June.
Keith very much the senior partner. Married June when he was the assistant entertainments officer in Torquay. Which was also where he met Alistair and June since it was he who had booked the group. June and he at loggerheads. She was promotion lady.

Immediately, there are several interesting points within the notes. The hero's name changes from Adam to Alastair within the space of a paragraph. While Alastair will stick to the final play, his partner's name Edie will not and she becomes Emma. The description of their relationship is essentially unchanged though and is the driving point of the play.
The Ginger Nuts though become solely related to June, who in the final play is not Edie / Emma's sister. The biography of the Ginger Nuts is also fascinating given none of it appears in the final play, but shows how much detail Alan goes into when writing.
The notes are also interesting for containing an early name for the boat, here the Hadforth Maiden II, eventually named the Hadforth Bounty. Vince & Fleur are also name checked as is Mrs Hatfield, who had the name of Vanessa originally.
A second item of interest held in the Ayckbourn Archive is a press release from the National Theatre's production of Way Upstream following the infamous flooding incident when the water tank split, spilling gallons of water into the electrics room at the venue
This press release (click on image to expand) illustrates the scale of the problems faced by the production.
What the press release doesn't mention is the play was originally supposed to open on 18 August 1982, but this was cancelled due to the tank splitting. The opening night was re-scheduled for 3 September, which was also postponed until 4 October.
Although the play became notorious for the technical issues, what is generally not reported is by the end of the production's run, it had been seen by considerably more people than is generally credited. It had 63 performances and was seen by 42,045 people playing to 75% capacity; considering the number of cancellations and difficulties, this is still an impressive figure.
Way Upstream opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 2 October 1981 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.