Alan Ayckbourn's retirement (2008)This article by Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd, was commissioned by NODA to mark the retirement of Alan Ayckbourn as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2009.
For Alan Ayckbourn, 2009 promises to be a significant year. It marks the 50th anniversary of his first play, his 70th birthday and his stepping down as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
After 37 years of nurturing Stephen Joseph’s legacy of a theatre in the round, based on the principle of encouraging new writing, Alan is passing the legacy on.
So an era ends for Alan Ayckbourn. To be followed by, if not a beginning, then actually a continuation of all that has been before. For to all intents and purposes, little will visibly change. Alan is not going to stop - or probably even slow down - his writing and directing.
This is just the next step in a plan announced in 1999, with the aim of allowing Alan to concentrate all his energies on his own work.
Back in 1999, Alan’s 60th birthday was marked by the world premiere of his 54th & 55th plays House & Garden and the news he would take a step back from his punishing workload to only direct his own plays - with the exception of the world and London premieres of Tim Firth’s The Safari Party in 2002.
The plan apparently being Alan would then announce his retirement as Artistic Director on his 70th birthday. Unfortunately, Alan could not have foreseen his stroke in 2006 - as his audiences could not have foreseen that within six months of the same stroke, he would be directing the world premiere of his new play If I Were You and a revival of one of his most loved family plays, Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays.
So the plan altered slightly. In 2007, now back directing full time with a production schedule than many directors half his age might baulk at, Alan announced he would retire as Artistic Director in 2009. That having assumed the position in 1972 and guided the company from The Library Theatre to the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round to its present home at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the time was right to hand over to someone new.
In those 37 years, it’s worth considering just how remarkable Alan’s achievements in a regional theatre have been. While Artistic Director, the theatre has produced approximately 430 plays, of which around 230 were world premieres, many by new writers. That Alan himself directed 180 of these plays as well as writing 60 of his own full-length plays. In that rather dizzying context, perhaps it is time for a well-deserved break.
Except Alan doesn’t really do breaks.
His new play, Awaking Beauty, a musical written with composer Denis King opens on 11 December at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and the 73rd play has already been commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre from the playwright.
So while 2009 is a year of anniversaries and great change, it also marks Alan’s ongoing commitment to working in regional theatre, directing and writing plays.
And given Alan’s love of symmetry and a challenge, I really wouldn’t bet against all those 2009 anniversaries being joined by another.
The 75th play perhaps.
After all, it’s just three more plays and you know you can’t keep a good playwright down. Especially now he’ll have more free time on his hands.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.