Ayckbourn At 50 (1989)This extensive article by Alan Ayckbourn was featured in the souvenir programme for the world premiere of The Revengers' Comedies (1989). Within it, Alan briefly discusses every play he had written between 1959 and 1989 - his fiftieth birthday.
ALAN AYCKBOURN WAS JUST 20 YEARS OLD WHEN HIS FIRST PLAY TO BE PRODUCED PROFESSIONALLY:
THE SQUARE CAT
opened at the Library Theatre in June 1959. It starred the author as an all-singing, all-dancing, extrovert, guitar-playing teenage pop star - but who secretly was a real home-loving, ordinary guy. The author was credited as "Roland Allen" - a combination of his Christian name and his wife Christine's surname. This was by way of acknowledgement for the contribution she made to the first three of his performed plays. Alan wrote about a dozen plays prior to The Square Cat that were never produced. Several were stored in a garden shed and were subsequently eaten by field mice.
“It was my first appearance on stage in a play of my own. Unashamedly (and rather foolishly) I had given myself the lion's share of everything. From my first entrance at the end of Act One till the final curtain line at the end of Act Three quite apart from singing, dancing and playing the guitar - none of which I could do - I had all the laugh lines and got the girl. Well, two of them actually. I made £42 in royalties. The most money I'd ever made in my life. It seemed like money for old rope at the time. But then they always say that the first one is the easiest!”
LOVE AFTER ALL
produced in December 1959, was based on The Barber of Seville and this time starred the author in four different disguises. It appeared in two versions. The first Edwardian and the second a modern version.
“Encouraged by the success of my first play, I swiftly followed up with another. Stephen Joseph warned me that the second one was going to be a lot harder but, because I stole the plot of this, it was actually a lot easier. It was about a very handsome young man - played of course by the author - wooing and winning the beautiful but brainless heroine, despite her father's objections. Actually the best character was a pig breeder called Rupert Hodge played by William Elmhirst who stole the show. The finale had several Chinamen rushing about. Heaven knows why. The Guardian described it as “lacking in wit”.”
written as a Christmas show for the company in December 1960, was designed to combine the talents of the Theatre in the Round Company and the British Dance Drama Theatre. It starred the author in no less than eight different roles. It was suggested by The Borrowers and was the last of the Roland Allen plays.
“I wrote this for the two quite separate companies one based in Scarborough, the other in Birmingham. The two never actually met each other till the final rehearsal. This was also the last time I played multiple roles. I spent the evening rushing on and off, changing moustaches. The play had its moments, thanks to a witty production by Clifford Williams and a rich central performance by Stanley Page as Dad. It was my first children's show. It opened in Scarborough just before Christmas and, including the director, played to an audience of five with an average age of forty. It was my first taste of theatrical failure. I was very depressed and gave up writing for several months.”
STANDING ROOM ONLY
produced at the Library Theatre in July 1961, was the first of Alan Ayckbourn's plays to attract the attention of a London management due possibly to a headline in The Stage, the profession's trade newspaper, supplied by a member of the company which read: “Is there a manager to drive this bus to Shaftesbury Avenue?” In the event nobody did but not until the script had undergone a number of rewrites, one version of which was presented with great success at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent in 1963. The Vic was the first permanent home of the Theatre in the Round Company and opened in a converted cinema in 1961.
“Despite its final failure, this marked quite a step forward for me as a writer. Stephen had asked me for a play about overpopulation set on Venus sometime in the future when Earth had overflowed. Instead, I set it on a London bus in 1997, which seemed a very long way away at the time. Peter Bridge bought the play with a view to West End production and had me rewrite it every time a new star expressed interest. Since there were about twenty of these (including Hattie Jacques, Sid James and most of the Carry On team) I kept rewriting till I was heartily sick of the thing. Needless to say it finished up a total mess. I've hated re-writing ever since. The second production at Stoke was the first time I directed my own work.”
CHRISTMAS V MASTERMIND
his second play for children, was presented in December 1962 as the Christmas show at the Vic, Stoke-on-Trent.
“Again, not a success. It was my last full length children's play for 26 years. It was also the last of my plays that I appeared in. I played a villain in a dressing gown who pushed a Christmas fairy out of a fifth floor window having fastened her wings together with a bulldog clip. One of the few laughs in the show, I recall, though like Dad's Tale hardly any children came to see it so it never really stood much of a chance. A woman wrote and said, after watching it, she was never coming to our theatre again. Ah, me.”
first produced with great success at the Vic in November 1963, was the play which did make it to London and the Arts Theatre in August 1964. Recast with a galaxy of stars retaining only the original actor, Peter King, in the title role, it attracted almost uniformly bad reviews including the following in the Daily Express from Bernard Levin: “If this, the most stomach-heavingly twee, arch, coy and gigglesome concoction that can have ever been seen in the West End of London, should run for five months, three-year-old mentally retarded children are going to have the Christmas treat of their lives. If not, not. And - literally for once, as well as metaphorically - 1 cannot say more than that.” Happily its fortunes have since been restored and it has played in theatres up and down the country. It was seen in Scarborough for the first time when it opened company’s new home here at Westwood in 1976 and was revived in 1988 at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme (the new theatre which replaced the original Vic) to excellent reviews.
“The universal lambasting it 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.”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 26 WHEN HE WROTE:
MEET MY FATHER
which was to become his first West End success. Renewing once again his association with the Library Theatre, Scarborough, the play was staged in July 1965. Re-titled Relatively Speaking starring Celia Johnson, Michael Hordern, Richard Briers and Jennifer Hilary, directed by Nigel Patrick and produced by Peter Bridge it opened at the Duke of York's Theatre on 29th March, 1967. “A young playwright arrives rapturously”; “Fun down to the last drop” and, interestingly, “At last, a playwright for real people” were some of the headlines in the papers. It has gone on to be one of his most long-lasting successes. Performed throughout the world, in 1988 it was running in five cities in Germany alone and was into its second season in Rome. A second television production, starring Nigel Hawthorne and Gwen Watford, has just been recorded. The first, with Celia Johnson and Donald Sinden, was transmitted in 1969.
“The first big hit. Written whilst I was at the BBC, it wiped out my overdraft virtually overnight. Stephen Joseph had suggested that I try to write a "well made" play (as opposed to all this experimental nonsense I'd been indulging in). I tried to achieve this. It's not that well made but it was the best I'd managed up till then. Stephen directed the first production. When he found it was over-running, characteristically he just tore the middle pages out at random. Despite this, it seemed to work. It was sadly one of the last productions Stephen ever did.”
written in 1967, the same year that Relatively Speaking was seen in London, opened that July at the Library, with the then unknown Robert Powell as Tony and John Nettles as Ed. Felt to be too like The Knack, this one didn't make the journey south.
“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 [Bergarac in the successful British TV series]. Bob Powell became a national TV star in Doomwatch about three months after he'd finished playing Tony. Too late! Too late! It wasn't a bit like The Knack, incidentally.”
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES
was a huge hit from the moment it was produced at the Library in July 1969. Robert Morley took it over for the West End where it opened in August of the following year at the Lyric. In 1971 it became the first of Alan's plays to reach Broadway, starring Phil Silvers and Sandy Dennis. In 1988, it had a very successful revival in London at the Duke of York's Theatre, the original home of Relatively Speaking and like that play is produced constantly all over the world. Japan first presented it in 1983 and last year mounted its second production. It is regularly staged in Germany and the USA.
“This was a huge success and, now it can be said, in no small part due to Robert Morley's enormous presence. It was my first taste of a star that was bigger than the play - or any play come to that. “I’ve left a trail of sadder but richer dramatists behind me.” Robert once confided to me. I was certainly richer, both financially and in experience.”
HE WAS 33 WHEN:
TIME AND TIME AGAIN
launched in Scarborough in July 1971, sailed into London and the Comedy Theatre in August 1972. An instant success, it starred Tom Courtenay as Leonard. It was televised in 1976. Although performed abroad, perhaps because of the strong cricket element which remains a mystery to many people outside this country, with less frequency than it otherwise deserves. It was revived at the Stephen Joseph in 1986.
“I think I really came of age with this play. It was a slightly lower key, less frenetic offering than my earlier stuff. In fact, Tom Courtenay was worried that he might by accused of not being funny enough. In the event, he was marvellous as indeed was Michael Robbins as the awful Graham. Eric Thompson directed - an association that went on successfully for several plays. It was my first flirtation with water on stage. Greg and Ian Chappell, the Australian cricket stars apparently came to see it. Fame at last!”
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR
presented in Scarborough in June 1972, has proved to be another of Alan's long-lasting successes. Starring Richard Briers and Sheila Hancock, it opened at the Criterion in July 1973, transferring to the Vaudeville in 1974. It was to bring him his first award - the London Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Comedy of 1973. With an American cast but with the same English director, Eric Thompson, it opened on Broadway in 1974. It was filmed for television in 1985.
“Despite an initial hostile review in The Guardian, this show has been a success everywhere, even on Broadway. It ran for ages in London and had at least three different casts. It got me accepted eventually, in some quarters anyway, as a 'serious' dramatist. It was also the first play of mine that Peter Hall saw. Shortly afterwards he asked me to write something for the new National Theatre.”
THE NORMAN CONQUESTS
supplied a sell-out season at the Library when the three interlinked plays opened in June/July 1973. However, they nearly didn't have a future at all. London managements preferring only to take on one play and each disagreeing as to which that should be. Alan put them away in his bottom drawer. Thanks to Eric Thompson who assembled an amazingly strong cast of comparatively unknown names at the time (Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendall Michael Gambon) in addition to Tom Courtenay, it was mounted at the Greenwich Theatre in May/ June 1974 where the plays reaped their just rewards. Tickets were on the black market and that August the show transferred to the Globe Theatre, presented by Michael Codron. Broadway followed in 1975, a television production in 1977. Interestingly, it won the Evening Standard and Plays and Players Awards for Best New Play (not Comedy as might have been expected) of 1974 and the Variety Club of Great Britain voted Alan Playwright of the Year.
“These got an inordinate amount of praise and I could see that, from then on, I had nowhere to go but down! Oddly, after the first night in Greenwich I was sure we'd failed, so the rave notices amazed me. It was a very happy time. It was also the first and I suspect last - occasion when I finished two plays in the same night. I wrote them in a week. When I went up to get the Variety Club Award at The Talk of The Town, there was a power failure and all the lights went out. I don't think anyone knew who'd won it.”
opened at the Library in June 1974. Very different in feel from the trilogy, it struck chords in all who saw it and reached London, the Garrick Theatre, in July 1975. Greece, Germany, Sweden, Australia are some of the countries which have seen it and it was presented with great success at the Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven in the USA in 1976 starring Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach. Back home here, Julia McKenzie gave a beautiful performance in the 1985 television production.
“Another departure for me when I tried to go really low key. The play is about death and the death of love. It worked in Scarborough in the tiny Library space quite beautifully. That production still remains one of the best. It sat more unhappily in the Garrick and was considerably less successful. But it joined Absurd Person Singular and the three Norman Conquests to give me five plays running simultaneously in the West End.”
followed in September 1974. Written for the Scarborough company to tour, it went on to open at the Apollo Theatre in May 1976, starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins.
“Five one act plays written for our first Scarborough Winter Season. They played in Filey (in the round) on Tuesdays, in Whitby (in the proscenium arch) on Wednesdays and Thursdays and in the Library, Scarborough (three-sided) on Fridays and Saturdays. The cast never knew if they were coming or going. Just before the first night in London, John Alderton broke his foot and had to play the whole show in a wheelchair. In one scene he played a waiter serving dinner and being pushed round the stage by another waiter. Quite bizarre. It's a great tribute to Alan Strachan's production that the show was still a success.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber's only flop, a musical from the Wodehouse books for which Alan wrote the book and lyrics, it opened at Her Majesty's in April 1975 and closed rapidly about a month later.
“Like all mega-flops there are a host of good stories but, sadly, it also broke up several partnerships - mine with director Erie Thompson and, temporarily, Andrew Lloyd Webber's with Tim Rice. On the first night in Bristol, the show ran so long that the orchestra packed up their instruments and left during the final number.”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 36 WHEN HE WROTE:
at the request of Sir Peter Hall, for the opening season at the National Theatre. However, Alan remained adamant that it must first be staged in Scarborough. And this it was in June 1975. Another robust piece, it was an instant success when it opened in March 1977 at the National. This same NT production transferred to Broadway to great critical acclaim in 1979, being nominated for four Tony awards for both play and direction and supporting performances from Joan Hickson and Michael Gough. Back home, with a new cast, the play transferred across the river to the Prince of Wales Theatre. A television production followed in 1980. It is constantly performed abroad.
“My first venture to the NT. And my first appearance in London as a director, thanks to Peter Hall. He and I co-directed though he left me with a very free hand whilst he directed Volpone in the room next door. A wonderful cast and another happy time. I solved the problem of filling the vast (or so it seemed to me at the time) area of the Lyttelton stage by writing a piece with three rooms side by side. Though when I first came to rehearse it in Scarborough we discovered that we couldn't get the set on the stage at all. We had to do it three-sided and lose a quarter of our audience seating.”
JUST BETWEEN OURSELVES
was the last production to be seen at the Library Theatre before the company's move to its new home in the former Boys' High School at Westwood. The play opened in January 1976 to the considerable surprise of the Library's own staff who came in one morning to discover a Morris Minor in situ on the first floor! The play was carried forward into the final Summer Season. The subsequent London production at the Queen's Theatre starred Colin Blakely and Michael Gambon. Directed by Alan Strachan, it opened on 22nd April 1977 and won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play of that year. It was televised, with Richard Briers in the leading role of Dennis, in 1978.
“Another 'darker' play, which I always feel worked better in its original venue than it ever has since. Essentially a small scale piece, it went even deeper than Absent Friends and has one of the most despairing endings I've ever written. I think a lot of my supporters found it altogether too dark but I did pick up an entirely new audience as a result of it.”
TEN TIMES TABLE
was the first new Ayckbourn to be seen at the Theatre in the Round at Westwood, subsequently to become the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round. It opened in January 1977 and when the play went to London, it was with Alan as director. It reached the Globe Theatre in April 1978, starring Paul Eddington and Julia McKenzie, and enjoyed a year's run at that theatre. Happily, Christopher Godwin and Diane Bull retained their original parts in the London production.
“The first time we smuggled some of the original Scarborough cast into the West End. A deserving reward for Chris Godwin who'd originated so many roles, dating back to Leonard in Time and Time Again, only to see them taken over by a star. This play was especially popular in Scarborough. Certain local people thought they recognised themselves in it - but I've always denied that there was any similarity intended!”
opened at the Stephen Joseph in January 1978 and in London at the Globe Theatre on 7th March 1979. This time, Robert Austin played his original part of Sven. Although sharing a Plays and Players Award for Best Comedy of 1979 (together with Dick Vosburgh's A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine), the play has never figured as strongly worldwide as some of the other works in the author's canon.
“One of my favourite plays, this one. It worked a treat in Scarborough. David Millard gave us a marvellous set with real trees and real grass and you really felt the seasons come and go as we all sat there together in the garden, audience and actors together. My own production in London, despite one or two wonderful performances, never recaptured this feeling. The divisive proscenium didn't help. Some plays, I think, are best left in the round.”
opened in January 1979 at the Stephen Joseph and at the National Theatre on 3rd and 4th June 1980. Consisting of twin plays, a 'related comedy', it followed the fortunes of two sisters in pursuit of the same man. It was Alan's first play for the biggest auditorium in that complex, the Olivier, and was co-directed by the playwright and Christopher Morahan. In order to fully enjoy the piece, you have to see both Abigail's and Dorcas's stories which has prevented it, possibly, from being done as much as one might have supposed.
“A second play intended for the National Theatre - and the first of my multiple choice pieces. Again I used an outdoor location, something I'm very fond of doing. We had a lot of fun with it both in Scarborough and at the NT - though I suspect the slightly less sophisticated southern audience had trouble sorting out which play they were meant to be seeing when. The choice of which play to do depended, literally, on a coin being tossed on stage. The first time Robin Herford tossed the coin, a million to one thing occurred - it landed on its side and rolled offstage, ending up nearly in the bar. Known in theatrical parlance as Sod's Law. Later at the NT, Michael Gambon secretly manufactured a double headed coin. Known in theatrical parlance as the Hazard of Working with Gambon.”
was the big hit of the 1979 autumn season at the Stephen Joseph when it opened in September. The London production opened at the Lyric Theatre in September, 1980 to decidedly mixed reviews. Happily, abroad, the picture was very different. It was the most performed play of the 1982 German season and has met with great response in Australia, France, Belgium Hungary and the USA to name but a few of the countries which have produced the play.
“One of the most successful of my plays in Scarborough, ever. On the first night, the cast were actually quite worried that the audience were getting out of control. One of my rarer excursions into pure farce. They're the most difficult type of play to write by far and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. A lot of people can write a drama that's interesting and fairly successful but whoever heard of an interesting and fairly successful farce? Alas, the play 'got away' in London in a production that didn't really work. One day ...”
the first full length musical written by Alan and Paul Todd, opened at the Stephen Joseph in January 1980. The Scarborough production then went on to play for a limited season at London's Round House in February, 1981.
“Paul and I had been experimenting with song writing with the occasional shorter bar show, but this was our first full blown musical. If it had failings, they were largely due to the demands we made on everyone. I needed wonderful actors to cope with my book and lyrics - and Paul's music was technically very difficult. Compromises occurred and we never really solved the problem of playing in the round with a live rock band.”
opened at the Stephen Joseph in September 1980, the production playing for a short run at London's Round House before joining the 1981 Summer repertoire back at Scarborough. As with The Norman Conquests, Greenwich Theatre subsequently helped the show along by mounting a production in 1982 which, in turn, transferred to the Apollo Theatre where it was nominated as Best Comedy of the Year by the Society of West End Theatre Managers. The play, starring Barbara Flynn, Peter Vaughan and Anna Massey was televised in 1986 and first transmitted to great acclaim on Boxing Day of that year. It was repeated in 1988. The play has been performed with considerable success around the world, notably in Eastern Europe.
“This one got two shots at London. The first was a rather unhappy transfer of the original Scarborough production to the Round House. Unhappy because the production was absolutely dwarfed by its surroundings and the play got rather lost. Luckily, Alan Strachan saved the day when he invited me to re-do the show at Greenwich. We assembled a wonderful cast including Bernard Hepton and Peter Vaughan as the uncles and Marcia Warren returning from the original Scarborough production.”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 42 WHEN HE TOOK THE GAMBLE OF FLOODING THE AUDITORIUM OF THE STEPHEN JOSEPH THEATRE FOR HIS PRODUCTION OF:
which opened in October 1981. There was also a boat which moved and real rain. The company then took the play (plus water) to the 750 seat Alley Theatre, Houston, Texas but when a new production was mounted at the Lyttelton Theatre of the NT in 1982 - it very nearly defeated everyone. However, open it eventually did on 4th October, though not before a number of cartoons about the production appeared in the national press. It has since been played successfully both with and without water though one of its hit productions was a Danish showing of the play in Copenhagen when it was staged in the sea lion pond of the Old Circus Building, the sea-lions having long since left! It was made into a film for television with a screenplay by Terry Johnson in 1987, who also directed.
“Another change of direction for me. A much more overtly 'political' play than I am normally known for, though most of the politics were still frankly sexual rather than Party. Visually - especially when it poured with rain from a sprinkler in the grid - it was very exciting. Saturday morning cinema for adults really - fun and thrills. Alas, most of these were lost when we tried to repeat the show at the NT. Technically, everything went wrong. The set became so notorious that the poor little play got forgotten. One of the London critics turned up for the (much postponed) NT press night in wellington boots.”
the second full length musical by Alan and Paul Todd, opened in December 1981. A further Scarborough production transferred to the Greenwich Theatre for a limited run opening on 14th March, 1983.
“I based this on my five years as a radio drama producer when one could sit securely behind soundproof glass and make caustic remarks about the performers. Then, whenever the microphone was faded down, they did the same to us. But in their case, they could never be sure whether the mike was on or not. The show was great fun to work on and we solved the difficulty of a live band in the round by including the musicians in the action. It did terrific business at Greenwich but never made the West End.”
the monster play cycle for two people gave the theatre a sell-out season in the summer of 1982 when the first play, A Cricket Match, opened in June. Robin Herford and Lavinia Bertram subsequently took the plays to the Greenwich Theatre, transferring into London - the Ambassadors Theatre - on 14th August, 1984. The limited season closed on 6th October only to reopen on 29th October when it replaced the following show which had been hurriedly withdrawn as the result of its uniformly dreadful reviews. Intimate Exchanges saved the day and played with great success for another four months.
“After the trials and tribulations of getting half drowned in Way Upstream in Texas most of the company were desperate for a rest and a change of dry clothing. I found myself with a company of two - but two who just happened to be the most experienced, Lavinia and Robin. An opportunity, I felt, to re-explore my Variable Theatre experiments - but this time in greater depth than I'd dared to do in Sisterly Feelings. It was a fascinating and very rewarding experience which I don't think any of us will ever forget. Between them, they memorised thirty scenes, eleven different characters and sixteen or so hours of dialogue. I described it rather pompously as a Festival of the Art of Acting. Lavinia described it as an orgy. At any rate it did introduce two more Scarborough stalwarts to the West End. Lavinia got an Olivier Award nomination for Best Comedy Performance and the play a Best Comedy nomination. Robin was later nominated for a Sony Award when the plays were recorded for the BBC World Service. None of us, alas, won.”
A TRIP TO SCARBOROUGH
an adaptation of the R.B. Sheridan play, was written purely as a Christmas show for Scarborough in December 1982. It was subsequently performed at our sister theatre, the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1987, but has not been seen elsewhere.
“I'd been meaning to do the Sheridan play for some time - mainly because of the title. When I came to read it though it seemed a rather pale rewrite of Vanbrugh's much bawdier, far more enjoyable The Relapse. So I wrote a sort of triple decker play using bits of the original Sheridan, another strand set in the 1940's wartime period and a third contemporary setting. The three plots intertwined a lot and there was a great deal of quick changing and - I think as a reaction against Intimate Exchanges - required a big cast, three musicians and was set in the foyer of Scarborough's Royal Hotel.”
IT COULD BE ANY ONE OF US
Alan's first attempt at a comedy thriller, opened in October as part of the 1983 autumn season. Although greatly enjoyed here it was never taken up for London. Germany nonetheless ever loyal, has mounted several highly popular productions but Alan has now withdrawn the play from circulation.
“Comedy thrillers are nearly as difficult to write as farces! The problem I had with writing this was that, to construct a successful whodunnit, you have to fill your stage with characters who could possibly have done it. Now, I'm quite prepared to believe that a household could have one member capable of murder - but five or six . . . ? In the end, I didn't have the heart to bump anyone off. I've rarely laughed so much in rehearsal, though. John Arthur's inept detective was a joy.”
A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL
opened at the Stephen Joseph in May 1984. It went on to open to great acclaim at the National Theatre (Olivier) on 1st August, 1985 starring Michael Gambon. The play swept the board for awards that year winning the Evening Standard, Olivier and DRAMA Awards for Best Comedy, with the Olivier Best Comedy Performance of the Year going to Michael Gambon and Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role to Imelda Staunton. It transferred to the Lyric Theatre on 11th June, 1986 with the late great Colin Blakely in the role of Dafydd ap Llewellyn. It was his final performance on the English stage. Many of the original Scarborough company were duly seen in the West End production. Another robust piece, it has received many performances abroad and was a great success at the Arena Theatre, Washington in January 1989. Michael Winner persuaded Alan to write the screenplay and this he filmed in Scarborough in the spring of 1988, with Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons and Prunella Scales in the leading roles.
“Another happy show for me that seemed to ring bells with a lot of audience. Because, of course, just about everyone has been in a show at some time in their lives. Russ Dixon had a ball creating Dafydd ap Llewellyn, the demonic producer and by including a number of marvellous songs from The Beggar's Opera, I could hardly go wrong.”
WOMAN IN MIND
opened the 1985 Summer Season that May to another excellent response. Ursula Jones created the highly demanding role of Susan, later to be played by Julia McKenzie in the West End production which opened at the Vaudeville in September 1986. Julia subsequently won an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress. Once more, two of the original cast retained their roles in the transfer south, Caroline Webster and John Hudson. In New York, the play had a sell-out run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, receiving a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play. Another production in San Francisco in late 1988 met with equal success. Delphine Seyrig starred in the Paris production.
“This was I think the thirteenth - and to date, apart from a recorded 'guest appearance' in Henceforward... the last play of mine for this theatre to have featured Robin Herford - though he's done one or two others elsewhere which must make him the current record holder amongst performers of my work. The value of interpreters like him helping to launch a new play can never be overstressed. Lucky author, lucky director.”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 47 WHEN HE AGREED TO WRITE A PLAY WHICH, FOR THE FIRST TIME, WOULD RECEIVE ITS PREMIERE PRODUCTION AWAY FROM HOME. THIS WAS:
A SMALL FAMILY BUSINESS
Written to be one in a series of four plays which he was to direct at the National Theatre. The first being the twenties farce - Tons of Money; the second, Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge (which won him a Plays & Players director of the Year Award), 'Tis Pity She's A Whore and this play. Michael Gambon led the company and after producing a towering performance as Eddie in the Miller play, followed it with the leading role of Jack McCracken. A Small Family Business opened in May 1987 and became one of the top earning productions at the National Theatre, receiving exceptional reviews and earning Alan another Evening Standard Award, this time for Best Play of 1987. To date, the play has been seen in Australia, Germany, Israel, Sweden, Denmark and will open in the United States at the end of 1989.
“This certainly was a breakthrough finishing a play nearly a year before the first rehearsal instead of the usual day before. I took advantage of being away from Scarborough by writing for a large cast and setting the piece in a two storey house with six rooms - like a giant doll's house. Something we could never have achieved in our tiny Scarborough space. At the NT during the opening minutes, the laughter used to roll round that huge Olivier auditorium like shock waves of thunder. Very satisfying.”
at the time of publication is still running at the Vaudeville Theatre where it opened in November 1988 starring lan McKellen, Jane Asher and in her original part of Zoe, Serena Evans, who was first seen in the role in July 1987 here at the Stephen Joseph. For her performance, she received an Olivier nomination for Best Supporting Actress and the play a Best Comedy nomination. Henceforward..., directed by Peter Zadek, was greeted with a standing ovation at its Berlin premiere in March 1989.
“Probably as a result of all those years working with Paul Todd, I was able to solve the problem of how to have a character actually 'creating' a work of art onstage - using all the new high tech synthesisers and digital audio systems. Paul wrote the score for this and then spent weeks getting it right on half a million pounds worth of state-of-the-art (borrowed) digital equipment - but then, to be fair, this play is set sometime in the future. One or two people expressed surprise that someone of my age should show such an interest in modern musical processes. Which made me feel very old indeed.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
was undoubtedly one of the biggest hits the Stephen Joseph Theatre has had. Opening in August 1988, it attracted remarkable reviews from the national press and had people clamouring for tickets. It will open in London in February 1990, once again starring the indefatigable Michael Gambon.
“After years of trying, I think I got as near as I've ever got in striking the balance between a play being entertaining whilst still having something to say. More water on stage and only the tiniest of leaks! And it gave me great satisfaction to have a character enter swimming.”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 49 WHEN, AT LAST:
MR A'S AMAZING MAZE PLAYS
hit the jackpot with children, though grown-ups were equally appreciative of this 1988 Christmas production which opened in November. Faber & Faber are publishing it both as a play and a book. The first German production will be in the 1990/91 season in Hamburg.
“Possibly thanks to a period of second childhood, I've finally overcome my bout of children's theatre phobia. Of course, it's a marvellous opportunity to write all the things you never dared write for adults for an audience that you know will instinctively understand you. What have I been missing?”
THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS 50 WHEN:
THE REVENGERS' COMEDIES
a play in two parts was first performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough on 13th June,1989.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.