Thrills & Chills (2008)

This article was commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, for the Things That Go Bump season in 2008.

15 chilling & thrilling facts about Alan Ayckbourn!

1) Alan’s first ghostly creation was ‘Enry Albert Murgatroyd (no relation), an unfortunate groom who collapsed carrying his ample bride over the threshold. His subsequent haunts feature in the song
The Ghost Of ‘Enry Albert, part of the revue What The Devil! performed at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1975.

2) The first Ayckbourn play to feature a ghost was
Taking Steps (1990). The Pines was haunted by Scarlet Lucy, a prostitute run through by a sword-stick who extracted her revenge by sleeping with eligible men in the house, leaving them dead in the morning. Naïve lawyer Tristram is left fearing for his life when someone visits his bed in the night; fortunately - or perhaps not - it is the wife of the house’s owner, rather than Lucy who visits him.

3) In
Communicating Doors (1994), one of the characters deliberately appears as a ghost in a nod to the film Pyscho. The homicidal Julian’s long-dead mother appears to him causing the murderer to fall to his death in this time-travelling thriller.

4) Alan’s first thriller was called
Mind Over Murder and has never been produced or published. It is one of several plays Alan wrote as a budding playwright before his first play The Square Cat was commissioned in 1959.

5) His first thriller to be produced should have been
Sight Unseen. Announced to the press as his new play for 1980, Alan abandoned the play a week before rehearsals were due to begin and wrote an entirely new play, Season’s Greetings, instead.

6) The first actual Ayckbourn thriller was
It Could Be Any One Of Us, premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1983. The original play didn’t actually have a body as Alan was not convinced an entire household could be homicidal. Times obviously change for when he revived the play in 1999, a corpse was present.

7) Alan’s first play as a director was Patrick Hamilton’s thriller
Gaslight, which was produced at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1961. Other notable chillers directed by Alan include the vampire tale Carmilla (1972) and Sleuth (1977)

8) As well as directing haunting thrillers, Alan has also appeared in his fair share of spooky tales. Among his many roles at the Library Theatre were parts in
Usher (1962), Wuthering Heights (1960) and Frankenstein (1959).

9) From one classic monster to another:
Dracula was a comedy sketch by Alan Ayckbourn which was part of the 1975 What The Devil! revue. It featured Malcolm Hebden (Coronation Street’s Norris) as the vampire’s monosyllabic servant Squelch.

10) Alan has frequently said one of his inspirations for
Snake In The Grass (2002) was the classic movie, Les Diaboliques. Alan's aim is to evoke the atmosphere of Clouzot's film where a murdered husband apparently haunts his wife and his mistress.

11) In 1981, Alan was approached by Polygram Entertainment and Paramount Studios to write the screenplay for a film based on the game
Cluedo. Despite Alan’s love of board games, the project fell through, although a movie was eventually released in 1985.

12) One of Alan’s two television screenplays features an apparently undead magician’s assistant. In
A Cut In The Rates (1984), a rates collector is confronted by a woman sawn in half by her magician husband. Scared witless by her ghostly encounter and the saw-wielding magician, she flees from an elaborate tax-avoidance scam!

13) The highest body count in any Ayckbourn play (with the notable exception of
Orvin - Champion Of Champions) is the epic The Revengers’ Comedies (1989). This was inspired by the film Strangers On A Train and when it was suggested the play be adapted into a film, Alan queried why anyone would make a film of a play inspired by one of the all-time great movies. Anyone who has seen the film of The Revengers’ Comedies may well have asked the same question.

14) One of Alan’s inspirations for
Haunting Julia (1994) is often quoted as The Woman In Black. This long-running West End play was adapted from the novella of Scarborough born author Susan Hill and had its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1987.

15) When it premiered in 1994,
Haunting Julia ran without an interval. When Alan revived it in 1999, it was a two act play. The reason: apparently bar takings fell in 1994! Fortunately for audiences, the play has been restored to one nerve-wracking act for this summer’s revival.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.