Monday, February 27, 2017

News & Listings: 27 February 2017

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn will be returning to his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical By Jeeves later in the year. He will be directing a new production to mark the 25th anniversary of the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, which will run from 6 October to 4 November. Booking is open now and further details can be found here.
> Tickets are now on sale for Alan Ayckbourn's talk at the British Library on Monday 22 May. Eighty Plays On will see the playwright discussing his work and career with Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times. The event is taking place in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library from 7pm and further details and booking information can be found here.
> Booking is now open for Alan Ayckbourn's new play and revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, this summer. He will be directing the world premiere of A Brief History of Women and a revival of Taking Steps. He will also be hosting two gala events, A Brief History of Plays, in which he will be celebrating his 60th anniversary with the Scarborough company through reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of his plays. Further details about all these events can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan Ayckbourn will also be marking the 50th anniversary of the death of his most influential mentor, Stephen Joseph, with a talk on Sunday 24 September at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. He will be joined by other people who worked with Stephen in an evening looking back at the British theatre pioneer. Further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Booking is now also open for Chichester Festival Theatre's revival of The Norman Conquests from 18 September - 28 October. The plays will be directed by Blanche McIntyre and further details can be found at www.cft.org.uk.
> Don't forget the blog is celebrating Alan Ayckbourns' 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre throughout the year with an article every Friday taking a year-by-year look at his association with the company.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, February 24, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970
After the founder of Scarborough's Library Theatre, Stephen Joseph, had died in 1967, it was not certain who - if anyone - could be found to replace him and take the company forward.
Between 1967 and 1971, the role of the Director of Productions (essentially Artistic Director) was appointed annually and for the first two years, the position had been taken by Rodney Wood.
There is nothing to indicate that Rodney was considered a long-term solution to the need for an Artistic Director though, but the appointment for 1969 did begin to address this situation.
For that year, Alan Ayckbourn was asked to take on the role, despite the fact he was still a full-time employee of the BBC based in Leeds.
Alan agreed and took charge of both the 1969 and 1970 seasons, programming the plays, scheduling, casting actors and directing the majority of the productions.
Alan Ayckbourn with his two sons photographed for a
article in the Radio Times in 1969.
Copyright: Radio Times
It was a slightly strange situation as Alan was essentially trying to protect the legacy of Stephen Joseph and help the company survive. But the company was in a precarious position, reduced to just a three month summer season and with no money to pay the Artistic Director; Alan was employed with only the offer of accommodation for the summer available.
Alan also had the pressing problem of having to pretend he was still in Leeds much of the time, getting his secretary to reroute his calls from the BBC to the Library Theatre! As he noted in an interview in 1970 after leaving the BBC: "I was hardly ever there, anyway."
These two years could be seen as the test-bed for Alan and his ability to run the Library Theatre and whether he was capable of running the company successfully; certainly his writing and directing credentials were not in doubt by now.
A publicity shot of Alan Ayckbourn
in Scarborough in 1970.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
That Alan was keen to ensure Stephen's legacy of encouraging new writing survived and thrived was also not in doubt; given how the same system had nurtured Alan and given him so much opportunity, it could be taken as a given. Between 1969 and 1970, Alan programmed nine plays at the Library Theatre, five of which were new plays and six were directed by Alan himself.
His championing of new work was also something he was well aware was not something that was prevalent in regional theatres at the time, as he noted in an article written in 1970.
"The new theatres, then, are the most likely to include that play with the grandiose description so often found on playbills, 'World Premiere': theatres with fresh audiences who come prepared. The season at Scarborough, which I've been running myself for the past couple of years, can safely present new plays in over half the programme, thanks mainly to the enlightened policy introduced by its founder, Stephen Joseph, over ten years ago."
Of course, the Library Theatre now had two advantages in its aim to champion new work. The first being the presence of a new play every year by Alan Ayckbourn - the success of which was as close to a guarentee in theatre as possible - as well as royalties from Alan Ayckbourn's West End productions.
The latter had not kicked into high gear yet, but the theatre benefitted substantially from Relatively Speaking's West End premiere in 1967 and was about to become a regular source of income from 1970 when How The Other Half Loves kick-started an almost perpetual Ayckbourn presence in the West End for the next three decades.
The famous dining room scene from Alan Ayckbourn's
hit 1969 play How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
It was not all plain sailing though as Alan's first season as Director Of Productions saw the Library Theatre's attendances drop significantly. A point raised by the board at Scarborough Theatre Trust's annual general meeting.
"[The] Secretary felt that the 1969 season had been very successful artistically but there had been a considerable drop in the attendance at the box office which the Trust felt was due to the choice of plays. The Secretary hoped that more consideration would be given to the early season audiences in 1970. Mt Ayckbourn noted this and told the meeting that he was planning to write a musical for the 1970 season."
Whether Alan actually intended to write a musical is open to debate as there is no record of any attempts to write a musical during this period in archive; famously his first musical was the West End flop Jeeves in 1975. Alan was, however, unanimously agreed to be asked to be appointed the Director Of Productions for 1970, which he agreed to.
But it proved to be another challenging year and at the 1970 AGM, it was announced the company had made a loss of £1,330 that year and the minutes recorded the note: "Artistically the season has been excellent, I think we have never before had such a strong and competent company of actors. However, the choice of plays did not make the season a success from a box office point of view."
The company from the 1970 summer season notably including
Bob Peck (front left), Stephenie Turner (top, second from left) &
Elisabeth Sladen (top, second from right).
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan had been unanimously agreed to be offered the Director Of Productions role in 1970 and whilst all evidence points to the fact Alan would have been offered the job again, it's open to speculation whether - after two loss-making seasons - he was seen as the man to turn things round.
But that decision was about to be taken out of the Trust's hands. Having been censured for running over-budget by £900 for hiring two extra actors that season, resulting in a vote by the Trust that the Artistic Director must not go over-budget, it was announced Alan - not present at the AGM - would not be available to run the theatre in 1971.
It later transpired his unavailability was due to his first Broadway transfer and he would be accompanying How The Other Half Loves on its North American debut tour and transfer to New York.
With Alan away from Scarborough for at least a year, the Library Theatre had to find a new Director Of Productions for 1971 with no guarentee of Alan's involvement in the season.
Would Broadway and the West End tempt Alan away from Scarborough for good?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

By Jeeves To Be Revived By Alan Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn will be returning to the popular and award-winning musical By Jeeves this autumn.
He will be directing a revival of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere.
Alan last directed the play 16 years ago on Broadway and is looking forward to revisiting the piece he has directed more times than any other of his creations.
"By Jeeves is a party. It's a celebration of theatre, so is perfect for the Old Laundry's 25th. I was always attracted by the innocence in Wodehouse and love the simplicity and characters, which I still find so refreshing."
The Old Laundry was founded in 1992 by Alan Ayckbourn's close collaborator, the designer Roger Glossop, who also worked on the original production of By Jeeves. This production will see them reuniting alongside the original choreographer Sheila Carter.
The Old Laundry Theatre's Directors, Roger and his theatre producer wife Charlotte Scott said: "We are really delighted to be putting on this revival of By Jeeves to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn. The original show, which re-opened the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1996, transferred to the West End and moved across the waters to Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Broadway was such a fulfilling theatrical enterprise for all the creative team, cast and crew that the idea we can re-visit this piece, with its wit, pace and beautiful songs and present a large scale production at the Old Laundry Theatre (10 in the cast + a six-piece live band) is a fitting celebration for our 25th."
The production will also feature musical direction by Steven Elis, costumes by Caroline Hughes and Lighting by Jason Taylor. It will make the first major production of the play since a revised version of the musical was performed at the Landor Theatre, London, in 2011.
By Jeeves is a musical by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber based on P.G. Wodehouse's Wooster novels, which opened in 1996 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. It follows the mis-adventures of Bertie Wooster and his man-servant Jeeves as they try and navigate a fraught tale of mistaken identities and mis-matched lovers resulting in confusion, mayhem and fun.
By Jeeves won the TMA Regional Theatre Award for Best Musical and transferred from Scarborough to the West End in 1996 before embarking on a UK tour. It was later revived on Broadway in 2001 at the Helen Hayes Theatre having also been adapted for television earlier the same year.
By Jeeves will run at the Old Laundry Theatre from 6 October to 4 November with booking opening in the spring.
Bookings for By Jeeves is now open and can be found tab this link along with further details.
If you would like to learn more about the history of By Jeeves, you can find out more at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Alan Ayckbourn At The British Library

Tickets are now on sale for Eighty Plays On at the British Library where Alan Ayckbourn will be discussing his career as a playwright.
Copyright: Andrew Higgins
The event, organised in conjunction with the Royal Society For Literature, is taking place on Monday 22 May at 7pm in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library.
Alan Ayckbourn will be in conversation with Peter Kemp, Chief Fiction Reviewer for the Sunday Times, and will be discussing Alan Ayckbourn's long writing career, his themes as well as his influences, working practises and his constant desire to push the technical envelope in his plays.
Alan Ayckbourn has been writing professionally since 1959 and 2017 will see the premiere of his 81st play, A Brief History of Women. During his almost six decades of writing, he has been responsible for such classic and acclaimed plays as Relatively Speaking, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, A Chorus Of Disapproval, Woman In Mind, A Small Family Business, Things We Do For Love, Comic Potential, House & Garden and Private Fears In Public Places.
Tickets are now on sale to the public and priced at £12 with concessions available. Further details and bookings can be made via the British Library website by clicking here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

News & Listings: 20 February 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
21 - 25 February: Roundelay at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre (produced by Dick & Lottie)
22 - 25 February: Henceforward... at the Cambridge Arts Theatre (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Alan Ayckbourn's new play was announced last week by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. A Brief History of Women is set over 60 years and follows an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who has loved, left and lost him over the decades all within a remarkable manor house which has seen and heard all these stories. It can be seen from 1 September - 7 October at the SJT, is directed by Alan Ayckbourn and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Alan will also be reviving his classic 1979 farce Taking Steps at the SJT this summer. The play can be seen from 13 July to 5 October and further details can also be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> ALan Ayckbourn will be celebrating his 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in September with two evenings called A Brief History of Plays. Each evening will look at 30 years of his career featuring reminiscences, anecdotes and extracts from many of the plays by members of his current and previous acting companies. The events take place on 11 and 17 September and further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
> Chichester Festival Theatre has announced a major revival of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, one of his most popular and acclaimed works. The three plays can be seen between 18 September and 28 October and will be directed by Blanche McIntyre. Further details can be found at www.cft.org.uk.
> Alan Ayckbourn's 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is also being celebrated as part of the eight-day Inner Circle event at the SJT in Scarborough. The week will be book-ended by the A Brief History Of Plays events and will also include a chance to see A Brief History of Women and Taking Steps as well as joining Alan Ayckbourn for dinner (subject to availability). The week offers a behind the scenes look at the SJT, offering a chance to join the theatre during tech week for a new play and to meet the people who bring the plays to the stage. Further details can be found at the SJT website here.
> If you missed Dick & Lottie's production of Roundelay at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in January, there's another chance with the production touring to the New Wimbledon Studio theatre from 21 - 25 February. Further details about the production and the only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays can be found here.
> There is a new regular feature on the blog in which, every Friday, we mark the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre in Scarborough with a year-by-year feature.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, February 17, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1966 - 1968

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1966 - 1968
Between 1965 and 1970, Alan Ayckbourn was employed by the BBC and worked as a Radio Drama producer based in Leeds.
As a result of this, Alan spent very little time in Scarborough, particularly between 1965 and 1968 when he contributed just two plays to the Library Theatre: Relatively Speaking and The Sparrow.
The latter premiered in 1967 and marked Alan's most substantive involvement with the company since he had left in 1962. The Sparrow marked the first time Alan had directed one of his own plays in Scarborough and saw him return at a strange time for the Library Theatre.
John Nettles, Pamela Craig & Robert Powell in The Sparrow.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The theatre had just re-opened following a 20 month break. At the end of the 1965 summer season, the Artistic Director Stephen Joseph had announced the closure of the Library Theatre.
The company had not performed the following summer and it was only through the efforts of the theatre manager, Ken Boden, that the venue had relaunched as a professional venue in 1967.
By this point, Stephen was also terminally ill having been diagnosed with cancer and had already stepped down as chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust - the company was soon to lose its founder.
Alan, who had a close bond with Stephen and still regards him as his most influential mentor, spent much time during the summer of 1967 with Stephen.
He also directed The Sparrow, which was a very different beast to Relatively Speaking. Alan was determined not to mine the same vein merely repeating what he had already done, so wrote a London-set suburban comedy that owed more to Harold Pinter than the high comedy of Relatively Speaking.
Robert Powell & Heather Stoney in The Sparrow.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The play performed well in Scarborough, but although his West End producer Peter Bridge did option it, it was without much enthusiasm as he was looking for the next Relatively Speaking and The Sparrow was never going to be this.
Alan has always wondered whether The Sparrow actually deserved a bit more attention - and to be fair, it has only had three weeks of life having never been performed again after its initial production at the Library Theatre.
The production was notable in another way though for its rather extraordinary cast. The male leads unknown at the time, but both destined for notable success. The first was Robert Powell, who not long after The Sparrow would be cast as the lead in the hit TV series Doomwatch - and would be propelled to international fame in the title role of Jesus of Nazareth in 1977.
“The girl's role in Relatively Speaking is the least fun to do and, probably out of guilt, I tried to remedy this by writing a wonderful vehicle for a girl in my next one. Pamela Craig was marvellous as Evie and the play was a great Scarborough success. It was John Nettles' first job, long before he became the sleuth from Jersey [referring to the British TV detective series Bergarac]. Bob Powell became a national TV star in Doomwatch about three months after he'd finished playing Tony."
Robert Powell & Alan Ayckbourn during the
late 1970s in Scarborough.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
The other actor, making his professional theatre debut, was John Nettles. John is perhaps best known for his roles in the TV shows Bergarac and Midsomer Murders, but - like Robert - has also had a varied and acclaimed theatre career.
The cast also featured Pamela Craig and Heather Stoney, who 20 years later would marry the playwright, but who also holds the record as having appeared in more Ayckbourn world premieres than any other female actress.
For Alan, it was a year of mixed feelings. In March, Relatively Speaking opened in London and was greeted with the reception a playwright could only dream of. He was propelled to instant fame and the play was a genuine West End phenomenon. But then in October, Stephen Joseph died and there is no doubt this did effect Alan.
It also had a profound effect on the Library Theatre, for even though Alan was not involved in the 1968 season, the Scarborough Theatre Trust had, naturally, begun to seriously discuss the succession.
Very quickly attention began to focus on someone who had not only made his name in theatre, but would also honour Stephen Joseph's legacy and could take the company forward.
Alan was about to take his first steps running a theatre company.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Norman Conquests At Chichester Festival Theatre

It's promising to be a busy year for Ayckbourn fans with the announcement of a revival of one of his most popular works, The Norman Conquests.
Following yesterdays announcement by the Stephen Joseph Theatre of Alan Ayckbourn's new play and his revival of Taking Steps, Chichester Festival Theatre has announced a major revival of his acclaimed trilogy The Norman Conquests.
The trilogy will be presented at the CFT from 18 September - 28 October and will be directed by Blanche McIntyre, who has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Donmar Warehouse amongst others.
The Norman Conquests is a classic trio of interconnecting plays, seen from hilariously differing perspectives, is performed by one ensemble of actors. Each play can be enjoyed as a single performance or seen as one event in any sequence, either over different days or on trilogy days.
Norman would like to seduce Annie, though he’s married to her sister, Ruth. He’s also got his eye on Sarah, though she’s married to Reg - who is Annie and Ruth’s brother. Tom, from next door, isn’t married to anyone: though he too nurses secret hopes beneath his stoical surface.
With pungent wit and sparkling ingenuity, Alan Ayckbourn fashions the thwarted desires and bittersweet absurdity of family life into a comic masterpiece.
Premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1973, The Norman Conquests went on to an award-running transfer in the West End in 1974 and then to Broadway in 1975. perennially popular since then, the trilogy shot back to prominence in 2008 with the Old Vic's critically acclaimed revival directed by Mathew Warchus, which went onto a Tony Award-winning transfer to Broadway in 2009.
The Norman Conquests is a much loved piece by Alan Ayckbourn and this promises to be a significant revival of the trilogy by Chichester Festival Theatre.
The trilogy can be seen between 18 September and 28 October and further details including the schedule for the three plays and the trilogy days can be found at www.cft.org.uk.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alan Ayckbourn's New Play Announced

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play A Brief History Of Women has been announced for the Stephen Joseph Theatre this summer.
The play will run alongside a revival of his classic farce Taking Steps during the 60th anniversary of him joining the Scarborough company in 1957, which will also be celebrated with two Gala events.
A Brief History Of Women will be the playwright's 81st play and opens on 1 September running through to 8 October. It is a comedy in four parts following an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who have loved him, left him or lost him over 60 years. All set in the equally remarkable old manor house that saw and heard it all happen.
Taking Steps is Alan Ayckbourn's only true farce and, when premiered in 1979, became the longest running show to have ever been staged by the Scarborough company running for more than 100 performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.
The play famously features three floors of the same house all overlaid on each other with the playwright once noting that his farce featured "floors not doors" for comedic effect.
Alan Ayckbourn revived the play in 1990 in Scarborough with Michael Gambon, Ken Stott and Claire Skinner starring before directing an acclaimed revival in 2010 for the Orange Tree, Richmond.
The 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining get Scarborough company in 1957 will also be marked with two Gala events on 10 and 17 September. A Brief History Of Plays will see Alan Ayckbourn joined by several familiar faces to offer a whistle-stop tour of anecdotes and extracts from many of the 77 plays he has premiered in Scarborough.
This promises to be an unmissable event for fans of the playwright offering the chance to hear him talk about the theatre and company with which he has spent his working life and is most associated with.
A Brief History of Women can be seen from 1 September to 7 October; Taking Steps from 13 July to 5 October and A Brief History Of Plays can be seen on 10 September (part 1) and 17 September (part 2). Further details can be obtained from www.sjt.uk.com.

All these Ayckbourn events have also been confirmed to be part of the Inner Circle Week 2017 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. An exclusive event in which participants get to go behind the scenes of the theatre and meet the people who bring the show stop the stage.
The week will run from 10 - 17 September and will be bookended by the A Brief History of Ayckbourn events and will also include the chance to see both Ayckbourn plays as well as the world premiere of Ali Taylor's Goth Weekend.
Other events during the week will include sessions marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Alan Ayckbourn's most influential mentor, Stephen Joseph, as well as behind the scenes look at the premiere that week of Goth Weekend.
Further details about the Inner Circle Week 2017 can be found by clicking here. An Early Bird booking offer is running until 30 March and more than half the available places have now been sold.

Monday, February 13, 2017

News & Listings: 13 February 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 18 February: Henceforward... at the Theatre Royal, Windsor (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
21 - 25 February: Roundelay at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre (produced by Dick & Lottie)
22 - 25 February: Henceforward... at the Cambridge Arts Theatre (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> Details of Alan Ayckbourn's new play and his revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this summer will be announced this Wednesday. Watch this space for details.
> The tour of Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed revival of his classic 1987 play Henceforward... moves today to the Theatre Royal Windsor (until 8 February) before ending at the Cambridge Arts Theatre (22 - 25 February).
> If you missed Dick & Lottie's production of Roundelay at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in January, there's another chance with the production touring to the New Wimbledon Studio theatre from 21 - 25 February. Further details about the production and the only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays can be found here.
> Alan Ayckbourn's 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is being celebrated as part of the eight-day Inner Circle event at the SJT in Scarborough. The week will be book-ended by two special gala events featuring Alan Ayckbourn and participants will also get the chance to see both his forthcoming productions. The week offers a behind the scenes look at the SJT, offering a chance to join the theatre during tech week for a new play and to meet the people who bring the plays to the stage. Further details can be found at the SJT website here.
> There is a new regular feature on the blog in which, every Friday, we mark the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre in Scarborough with a year-by-year feature.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1964 - 1965

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1964 - 1965
Away from Scarborough, away from the Library Theatre, 1964 was a year of highs and lows for Alan Ayckbourn.
It began with the news that his most recent play, Mr Whatnot, would transfer from the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, to the West End; his first play to do so. It was a key part of Alan's decision to give up his acting career that year to concentrate on playwriting and directing.
It would end with Mr Whatnot having been a two week disaster in the West End and on the back of some of the worst reviews he would ever receive, Alan taking a full time job at the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer in Leeds and considering whether to leave theatre for good.
“The universal lambasting it [Mr Whatnot] got from the London critics sent me scurrying for cover to the BBC where I became a Leeds-based radio drama producer for five years.... I joined the BBC with no thoughts of writing again - certainly not for London or the stage.”
Alan Ayckbourn in one of his final roles as a professional
actor in The Rainbow machine at the Victoria Theatre.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
And yet from the ashes of what is, arguably, his most significant West End failure, came the seeds of his first major success and a return to the Library Theatre in Scarborough for the first time in three years.
"I went back to the drawing board. A few weeks after that debacle, I had vowed never to write another play; but dear Stephen Joseph came and told me to have another go and try to write ‘a well made play’."
Mr Whatnot had been a very experimental and daring piece for the young playwright, which Stephen Joseph had admired. But he also had reservations and offered Alan a simple piece of advice which he has since offered to many other fledgling writers: "If you want to break the rules of theatre, he said, it's very useful to know what the rules are. Breaking them by accident can lead to all sorts of trouble later."
So in 1965, Alan began work on a 'well-made play' for the summer season at the Library Theatre, that would meet Stephen's criteria of being "a play which would make people laugh when their seaside holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came into the theatre to get dry before trudging back to their land-ladies."
Except this was Alan. Despite being commissioned in October 1964, when Stephen rang in February 1965 enquiring how the play was going, he had not written a single word.
Nor by April.
Nor by May....
With the play scheduled to open in July, Stephen tried to push matters along by asking for a play title. When none was forthcoming and needing to advertise the summer season, he suggested one to Alan, Meet My Mother.
"That night I sat up till 4 a.m. trying to think of a play which might possibly suit that title and finally decided it wasn't very inspiring. I 'phoned back the next morning and, on impulse rather than anything else, asked if the proof copy of the poster could be amended to read Meet My Father. It was bolder and had a good ring to it."
A publicity postcard for the Library Theatre featuring a scene
from Alan Ayckbourn's Meet My Father.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
There was at least now a title, if nothing else. Now he just had to write the play.
With just two weeks until the start of rehearsals and still no play, Alan and his wife, Christine, rented out a holiday flat in Collingham to pull something out of the fire. Not that this was unusual, every hit Ayckbourn play you can name between 1965 and 1986 was generally written to the latest possible deadline of rehearsals - and occasionally into the rehearsal period!
With a deadline looming and a neighbour's cat called Pamela - which had adopted Alan as a comfortable resting place - on his lap, he began work on Meet My Father.
"One quiet midnight Pamela and I sat down to write. I remember little of this period... but I do know that whatever good qualities the piece has are almost entirely due to this pressure. The devious plot was the result of sheer frenzy and the dialogue, of tearing haste."
The play was written in just over a week and despite not being convinced of its qualities, Alan posted it to Stephen but stayed out of contact with him convinced he would reject the play. When they finally did meet - bizarrely in Manchester when Stephen was supposed to be directing the play in Scarborough - Stephen's only comment was "You've written a very funny play."
Peter King, David Jarrett and Catherine Naish in Meet
My Father at the Library Theatre, Scarborough.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Although that was not to say it was a perfect play in Stephen's eyes. For come the opening night, Alan sat down in the audience and saw his play for the first time. Or a somewhat condensed version of it.
"[Stephen cut] rather a lot of important bits, because he didn't seem to mind where it was cut as long as it was cut. When he did this you would point that there were some important bits of information missing, but he'd just say: 'Don't worry, people. They'll follow it.' and they generally did."
Stephen actually cut a quarter of the play, but the production was extremely popular and when the West End producer Peter Bridge came to see it, he asked for the script with a view to optioning it.
Alan sent him the uncut version.
By the end of the summer, negotiations were under way for a West End transfer with a contract in archive showing Alan was paid £100 in advance of royalties by Bridge for the play. Alan was once again enjoying success in the theatre after his 'wobble' following Mr Whatnot.
A statement from the Ayckbourn Archive showing Alan
Ayckbourn's earnings from meet My father including the
advance from Peter Bridge for the West End transfer.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Meet My Father was the play which changed everything. It would not open in the West End for another two years, but became a runaway success and launched Alan into the national spotlight.
And the play itself became a classic, much loved and revived ever since.
Except the for the title.
No-one really liked Meet My Father and after much thought it became the rather more famous, Relatively Speaking.

Monday, February 6, 2017

News & Listings: 6 February 2017

Ayckbourn Plays This Week & Coming Soon
Until 11 February: Henceforward... at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)
13 - 18 February: Henceforward... at the Theatre Royal, Windsor (directed by Alan Ayckbourn)

News Round Up:
> The tour of Alan Ayckbourn's acclaimed revival of his classic 1987 play Henceforward... moves today to the Royal & Derngate, Northampton 11 February. Alan Ayckbourn directs the production and it can also be seen at the Theatre Royal Windsor (13 - 18 February) and Cambridge Arts Theatre (22 - 25 February).
> If you missed Dick & Lottie's production of Roundelay at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in January, there's another chance with the production touring to the New Wimbledon Studio theatre from 21 - 25 February. Further details about the production and the only amateur company dedicated to Alan Ayckbourn's plays can be found here.
> Alan Ayckbourn's 60th anniversary at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is being celebrated as part of the eight-day Inner Circle event at the SJT in Scarborough. The week will be book-ended by two special gala events featuring Alan Ayckbourn and participants will also get the chance to see both his forthcoming productions. The week offers a behind the scenes look at the SJT, offering a chance to join the theatre during tech week for a new play and to meet the people who bring the plays to the stage. Further details can be found at the SJT website here.
> There is a new regular feature on the blog in which, every Friday, we mark the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre in Scarborough with a year-by-year feature.
Unseen Ayckbourn: Illustrated Edition by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd is now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Fully updated for 2017, this book explores the unseen, withdrawn and unpublished works of Alan Ayckbourn with illustrations for the first time.

Friday, February 3, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1962 - 1963

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1962 - 1963
It's not generally known - or acknowledged - that although Alan Ayckbourn has been associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough for six decades, there is a seven year period with very little connection between the two.
Between the autumn of 1962 and the spring of 1969, Alan Ayckbourn wrote only two plays for the Scarborough venue and directed only one production. He was not resident in the town, had full-time employment elsewhere and was not actively involved in the company on a regular basis.
Which perhaps makes it even more intriguing when, after seven largely absent years, he essentially takes over the theatre he would become most associated with and ensured the legacy of its founder was firmly engrained into the company to this day.
But all this was long in the future in 1962, when Alan Ayckbourn performed in his final season as actor for the Scarborough company before moving away from the town.
The aspect of Alan Ayckbourn's connection with the Library Theatre we highlight today is not his final acting season though, but his unusual connection with the amateur companies in the town.
It is no secret that Stephen Joseph forged close links with the amateur community in Scarborough from the moment he first visited Scarborough in 1955 with the intention of setting up the UK's first professional theatre-in-the-round company in the town.
He had very little money and depended on the voluntary help of the amateur community to help with front-of-house duties and running the theatre. The first - and longest running - theatre manager of the company was Ken Boden, a keen amateur theatrical who Stephen first met in 1955 and who managed the theatre from 1955 to 1985.
Ken Boden and Alan Ayckbourn.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Stephen also encouraged the amateur companies within the town to adopt theatre-in-the-round and to use the Library Theatre space, which they did with frequency. Stephen also launched a successful In-The-Round festival at the venue which attracted companies from all over the UK and even abroad throughout the 1960s.
Such were the links between the amateur community and the Library Theatre, that the amateurs could not help but notice the early playwriting success of Alan Ayckbourn and decided to approach him about writing for them.
Thus a little known aspect of Alan Ayckbourn's playwriting career was born in which he wrote several plays for the town's amateur companies with two of them premiered at the Library Theatre, but under the auspices of Scarborough Theatre Guild rather than Stephen Joseph's Studio Theatre company.
Alan wrote at least four plays at the request of Scarborough Theatre Guild of which three were produced. The first, Double Hitch, opened at the Library Theatre in 1960, with Love Undertaken opening at St Mary's Parish House in 1961.
Ken Boden in world premiere of Double Hitch at the Library Theatre.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
His final play for the amateurs was Follow The Lover, which opened at the Library Theatre in March 1962 with Alan Ayckbourn acting opposite Ken Boden in a one act comedy about an elderly couple convinced each of the other is having an affair. To that end, they both separately hire young investigators, who are - naturally - presumed by each party to be the other's younger lover!
It marked Alan's final appearance as an actor in an amateur production, possibly because of Ken. He would later say that a third element needed to be added to the well-known theatrical quote: never act with children, animals or Ken Boden!
Detail from the first page of Alan Ayckbourn's unproduced play The Party Game.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
Alan also wrote a play called The Party Game, which although historically interesting - and quite unlike anything he would write for several decades - was not even considered for production by Ken's wife Margaret Boden.
Professionally, Alan finished his acting career at the Library Theatre in 1962 with a season which included him playing the lead role in an adaptation of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, which garnered a strange review from The Guardian.
Alan Ayckbourn and his 'bold acting in Usher.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
"In spite of some bold acting by Alan Ayckbourn, as melancholic Roderick Usher, Elizabeth Bell, as his sister, and Peter King, as the city saviour, it must be said that the play substantially fails to horrify."
Define 'bold acting' and whether that's a complement or otherwise!
The Guardian's review of Usher by David Campton.
Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited
At the end of the season, big changes were afoot though. Stephen Joseph had finally realised the opportunity to create a permanent home for theatre-in-the-round at the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and Studio Theatre Ltd left Scarborough to make a new home in the Victoria Theatre.
Alan, alongside most of the company made the move too and he was employed as actor, director and playwright between autumn 1962 and spring 1964; essentially, second only in the company to the Artistic Director Peter Cheeseman.
It marked the end - for the moment - of his association with Scarborough which had begun in 1957. His last play at the Library Theatre had been Standing Room Only in July 1961. he would not write another for the venue until July 1965 with a play called Meet My Father.
But you might better know it as Relatively Speaking....