A Trip To Scarborough: Arranging A Trip To Scarborough (2007)A Trip To Scarborough. If any play was an obvious candidate for Alan Ayckbourn to tackle, this surely was it. Except he didn’t think much of the play. Alan much preferred John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse, which Richard Brinsley Sheridan had adapted when writing A Trip To Scarborough. But The Relapse didn’t have the appeal of Sheridan’s title. The solution? Adapt Sheridan’s play, taking the same liberties as Sheridan had done with Vanbrugh, as Vanbrugh had done with another playwright, Colley Cibber. In effect, Alan wrote an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation / sequel. Confused? Let’s go back to the beginning.
In 1660, the monarchy was restored after 21 years of puritanical rule by Oliver Cromwell. The theatres, closed for two decades, were re-opened ushering in the Restoration movement, which was epitomised by the bawdy, flamboyant and irrelevant.
While this may sound like a perfectly good night out at the theatre, over the following years there was a moral backlash against perceived excesses of the theatre. Into the breach stepped Colley Cibber, a jobbing actor of his day, who saw a hole in the market. In 1696, he wrote Love’s Last Shift, or The Fool In Fashion, which rather radically endorsed marriage. The play was a huge success and Cibber’s acting career was reinvigorated largely thanks to his role as Sir Comedy Fashion.
The play, regarded as the father of Sentimental Comedy, was approved by the moralists, who were not so impressed when playwright and friend of Cibber, John Vanbrugh, decided to turn his attentions to the same play. He wrote a loose sequel which premiered later the same year and even featured Cibber reprising his role as Fashion, now known as Lord Foppington. The Relapse, or Virtue In Danger jettisoned the moral piety of the original, restoring the more typical wit and robust bawdiness of the period.
The play was also a hit, but raised the ire of the moralists, particularly a certain Revd. Collier, a figurehead of the moral movement. In his most famous tract A Short View Of The Immorality, And Profaneness Of The English Stage, he targeted The Relapse criticising both its technical competence and lack of morality. The critique was effective, Vanbrugh stopped writing and concentrated on his career as an architect (designing Castle Howard along the way).
A century later and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who had just bought a stake in the famed Drury Lane theatre, was looking for a play to launch his first season in 1777. He decided The Relapse was that play, but that it needed pruning to make it palatable for the prudish and conservative 18th century audience. Following Collier’s lead, Sheridan attempted to improve the structure, whilst removing the bawdiness and much of the fun of the piece.
In its place, he introduced large amounts of exposition and narrative, removed the more outrageous characters and relocated the action to the suitably exotic locale of Scarborough. The contrite and subdued plot met with a mixed critical response, but the play proved popular enough. Unfortunately, it was completely over-shadowed later that year when Sheridan unveiled his phenomenally popular comedy The School For Scandal.
There A Trip To Scarborough’s story might have ended had it not been for Alan Ayckbourn. Although he considered Sheridan’s play inferior to The Relapse, he thought there was some interesting material and, of course, its nominal connection to his adopted town. Aware of the play’s history, Alan saw it as a precedent to take the bare bones of the plot and interweave around it two entirely new plots set in the 1940s and the present day. He also transposed the action to the foyer of the Royal Hotel, then owned by his friend and staunch supporter of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Tom Laughton.
Alan premiered the play in 1982 with a cast of 14 including a band of three (one of whom being the now renowned jazz pianist Dave Newton). The scale of the piece was in direct contrast to much of the preceding year which had seen Alan unveiling the many strands of his two-hander Intimate Exchanges. Although from a stage management point of view, the complexities of A Trip To Scarborough made it just as nightmarish as Intimate Exchanges.
Twenty-five years on and A Trip To Scarborough receives a welcome revival in 2007 (having only been staged twice in the intervening years). And true to form, Alan has tinkered with it again, adapting his own adaptation to bring the modern scenes up to date. One would not expect anything less of a play which revels in different time-periods, myriad characters and several plots. Nothing is ever straight-forward when arranging A Trip To Scarborough.
It seems Roundelay again sees you pushing yourself in new directions.
I’m always looking for something that makes an evening just that little bit different without departing entirely from the old basic skills. You need to keep challenging yourself. I think Roundelay does that for me.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.