Choruses of Approval (2009)This article by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd, was published in a souvenir programme to mark the Royal & Derngate Theatres' Ayckbourn At 70 celebration in 2009. It explores celebration events for Alan Ayckbourn.
Ayckbourn At 70 is the single largest celebration of Alan Ayckbourn’s work to have ever taken place.
It’s not the first celebration of an Ayckbourn anniversary though, as in 1999 Alan’s home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, arranged a surprise one-off event for the playwright: A Chorus Of Approval.
Conceived to celebrate Alan’s 60th birthday and written by his biographer Paul Allen, it celebrated his writing with extracts from various plays. These were set within the framework of a committee in Alan’s fictional town of Pendon, discussing how to celebrate the life of its most famous resident… Alan Ayckbone. Or is it Eickbaum. Or Oakbeam….
The one-off performance featured a number of famous Ayckbourn actors such as Griff Rhys Jones, Martin Jarvis, Janie Dee, Julia McKenzie, Stephanie Turner and Robert Powell. Money raised from the event went towards A Chorus of Approval, a fund to raise money to encourage and support new playwriting.
Alan also celebrated his 60th birthday by writing the ambitious House & Garden, two plays performed simultaneously with one cast across two auditoria. A birthday treat he thought would never be repeated.
“It's a one-off, entirely written for this building. It's a complete piece of lunacy on my part and is unlikely to ever have another life.”
Of course the play subsequently transferred to the National Theatre where it enjoyed phenomenal success and has since been regularly produced by both professional and amateur companies throughout the world.
Obviously there is nothing like a good challenge.
And talking of challenges, the Royal & Derngate is coming full circle by presenting the first of Alan’s epic birthday gifts to himself. In 1989, to mark his 50th birthday, Alan wrote The Revengers’ Comedies, a two-part, five-hour long extravaganza.
“The Revengers’ Comedies I intended as a sort of fiftieth birthday present. I can’t think who on Earth the present is aimed at. Certainly not myself – the thing is a technical nightmare and put years on me.”
The Revengers’ Comedies is less frequently performed than House & Garden, probably due to the fact its swift and many scene changes alongside a large cast are more intimidating than even House & Garden’s many demands.
That Ayckbourn At 70 features Alan Ayckbourn’s 50th birthday present alongside so many other 70th birthday surprises is a rare treat in itself.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.