Frequently Asked Questions: Writing

This page contains FAQs concerning Alan Ayckbourn and his playwriting career. If there is a question not listed here which you feel should be listed, please contact the website via the Contact Us page.
 
1) Which acting role led Alan to write his first play?
2) How many plays has Alan Ayckbourn written?
3) Why has there been confusion about the number of plays?
4) What about Intimate Exchanges?
5) What about Consuming Passions?
6) What about The Karaoke Theatre Company?
7) Alan Ayckbourn is frequently labelled as a farceur, is this correct?
8) Why have the early plays never been published?
9) Which plays have not been published and are not available for production?
10) Alan has said he tried to destroy all his early plays, is this true?
11) What are the Grey Plays?
12) Is there an Ayckbourn trilogy called Things That Go Bump?
13) Which of Alan Ayckbourn's full length plays were written with end-stage performance in mind?
14) What is The Divide?
 
1) Which acting role led Alan to write his first play?
Alan wrote his first play after complaining about his acting roles to
Stephen Joseph, the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre in Scarborough, who promptly challenged Alan to write a better role for himself. For many years it was stated that Alan’s role as Nicholas in Jon Van Druten’s Bell, Book And Candle was the role that drove Alan to complain. However, Paul Allen’s biography Grinning At The Edge conclusively proved this was impossible as Bell, Book And Candle was in the same season as Alan’s first play The Square Cat. Allen contended the likely actual candidate was the role of Eric which Alan played in David Campton’s Ring Of Roses during Christmas 1958 - something which David Campton later confirmed. As David Campton was a friend, Alan may have changed the 'inspirational' role during interviews so as not hurt Campton's feelings.
 
2) How many plays has Alan Ayckbourn written?
As of 2017, Alan has written 81 full-length plays. His latest (81) - A Brief History of Women - will premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during summer 2017.
 
3) Why has there been confusion about the number of plays?
For many years, the number of plays and the numbering of them was often inconsistent. This was largely due to Jeeves not being included in the list (presumably because it was a musical). Discrepancies have also cropped up over the years such as whether House & Garden were one or two plays (two), whether some of the revues should be included (no) and whether full length works such as The Karaoke Theatre Company should make the list (no). The list and numbering that now exists is considered definitive and this play-list can be found in the Plays section.
 
4) What about Intimate Exchanges?
Intimate Exchanges is classed as just one play; it does have eight named variations within it (just to confuse issues, there are actually 16 variants in total). However as they all branch from a single source, they are counted as just one play. You can find out more about the play and its structure at the Intimate Exchanges section of the website.

6) What about Consuming Passions?
Consuming Passions is Alan Ayckbourn's 80th full-length work. This is despite the fact it is the only Ayckbourn play to have two named acts (Promotions and Repercussions) which were originally performed separately in 2016 before the play premiered as a complete piece. However, as the plays are meant to be performed together, have to be seen in the correct order and tell one complete story, they are considered a single full-length play rather than two one act plays with an over-arching title. The obvious precedent is The Revengers' Comedies which is considered to be one play despite having two parts.

6) What about The Karaoke Theatre Company?
Despite the fact this is a full-length work, Alan Ayckbourn never considered it to be his 80th play, but rather a 'live entertainment'; it is not one of his canon plays. This is due to the fact that portions of the script are improvised by both actors and audience, so there will never be a definitive single script.
 
7) Alan Ayckbourn is frequently labelled as a farceur, is this correct?
No. It was a label lazily applied to Alan Ayckbourn early in his career by critics largely on the basis of productions of his plays directed by other people in which the farcical elements may have been emphasised. Alan Ayckbourn believes he has written only one true full-length farce with Taking Steps; although there are heavy elements of farce in How The Other Half Loves, Love After All and The Square Cat. He has also written two one-act farces which together form Farcicals. Whilst elements of farce do appear in his writing, Alan Ayckbourn's plays do no objectively meet the requirements of pure farce. And, before you ask, Bedroom Farce is not a farce; Alan Ayckbourn just like the title!

8) Why have the early plays never been published?
Alan has frequently said that every writer has a period when they are learning their craft and that these plays represent that period; as a result he would not be happy to have them published and definitely not performed.
 
9) Which plays have not been published and are not available for production?
The plays which have not been published are: The Square Cat, Love After All, Dad’s Tale, Standing Room Only, Christmas V Mastermind, The Sparrow, Jeeves, Making Tracks, The Musical Jigsaw Play, Virtual Reality and Miss Yesterday. All his other plays have either been published or are due to be published imminently. Of the plays not published, only Miss Yesterday is available to produce.
 
10) Alan has said he tried to destroy all his early plays, is this true?
This was probably said in jest as at least one copy of all of Alan Ayckbourn's plays are now known to exist. Alan personally chose not to keep copies of his early plays, which led to the difficulty in tracing several of the early plays. Between 2005 and 2007, Alan's archivist Simon Murgatroyd recovered copies of all the previously thought lost scripts. A complete collection of Alan Ayckbourn's manuscripts is now held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at The University Of York.
 
11) What are the Grey Plays?
Alan Ayckbourn has written a number of plays which have been produced and performed, but which are not considered part of the official canon. Generally this is because the plays were written for a specific and unique event (An Evening With Palos for The Colin Blakely Memorial; Untitled Farce for the 50th anniversary of the Stephen Joseph Theatre) or because they were from Alan's earliest days as a writer and represent formative steps as a professional writer. Whilst all the plays have been produced in some forms, they have never been published and are not available for production. The Grey Plays are: Double Hitch (one act, 1960); Love Undertaken (one act, 1961); Follow The Lover (one act, 1962); Dracula (one act, 1975); The Jubilee Show (revue, 1977); Backnumbers (revue, 1983); An Evening With PALOS (one act, 1987); Ron & Julie (one act sketch, 1991); Between The Lines (revue by Paul Todd incorporating Ayckbourn songs, 1992); Untitled Farce (one act, 2005). Full details can be found in the Plays section.
 
12) Is there an Ayckbourn trilogy called Things That Go Bump?
No. It has frequently and inaccurately been reported that Alan Ayckbourn's three supernatural plays is a trilogy called Things That Go Bump. This is incorrect as the plays have never been referred to by this title by Alan Ayckbourn nor does he consider them a trilogy. The misunderstanding arises from the fact the three plays (Haunting Julia, Snake In The Grass and Life & Beth) were presented in a season called Things That Go Bump at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2008. However, this title was purely for marketing purposes and has never been specifically used as an overarching name for the three plays by the playwright himself. Unfortunately, various reports and websites have inaccurately assumed the season title referred to an official trilogy title and since 2008 the plays have occasionally incorrectly been labelled as the Things That Go Bump trilogy. As of writing, the three plays to be thematically connected but are not considered a trilogy.
 
13) Which of Alan Ayckbourn's full length plays have been specifically written for production in the end-stage?
There are five Alan Ayckbourn plays which were originally written with end-stage performance in mind (although several of these have been performed in the round). These plays are: Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, Haunting Julia, Things We Do For Love and Virtual Reality. Although Jeeves and House were originally performed as end-stage plays, unlike the other plays they were not specifically written for end-stage performance.
The vast majority of Alan Ayckbourn's plays were written for performance in-the-round, but can be easily adapted to other staging configurations (with the exception of
Taking Steps, which is intended specifically for performance in-the-round).

14) What is The Divide?
Written in 2015 by Alan Ayckbourn,
The Divide marked a completely new direction for Alan Ayckbourn. It is set in a post-catastrophic England and is told through journals, diaries, reportage, transcripts and minutes. It is designed as both something which can be read or performed as a narrative for voices. The full text runs to 260 pages, although an abridged version suitable for performance over six hours (with breaks) has also been produced. Due to its unusual nature, it is not considered a play although it was 'performed' as a reading during 2015.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd