Frequently Asked Questions: Acting

This page contains FAQs concerning Alan Ayckbourn and his acting 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) What inspired Alan Ayckbourn to become an actor?
2) What is Alan Ayckbourn's connection to Sir Donald Wolfit?
3) What was Alan Ayckbourn's first professional acting role?
4) What was Alan Ayckbourn’s first acting role at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (then the Library Theatre)?
5) What was Alan Ayckbourn’s final acting role?
6) What about How The Other Half Loves in 1969?
7) What Is Alan Ayckbourn's connection to Harold Pinter?

1) What inspired Alan Ayckbourn to become an actor?
It would be fair to say that Alan Ayckbourn never had a burning desire from youth to be an actor. As he readily admits, like so much of his career, he was in the right place at the right time. Even by the time he left school at Haileybury, he admits he was "tinkering with a journalism career." What tipped the balance was a tutor Edgar Matthews, who encouraged Alan's interest in acting. After taking his O Levels, Alan decided he did not want to stay on for further education as the school hoped: "Actually one was leaving because one didn't want to stay, rather than because one wanted to do anything." Having made the decision to leave school, he decided to try and find a route into theatre and approached Edgar Matthews, who gave him a letter of introduction to Sir Donald Wolfit and contacted the famed impresario. Wolfit, about to embark on a short tour, employed Alan on the Monday after he left school on the previous Friday. After the three week tour, where Wolfit had suggested Alan go to drama school, Alan took an unpaid job as a student acting stage manager at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, from there he went straight into a job at Leatherhead Theatre Club Theatre Club and from there to the Oxford Playhouse, and then Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. There was never a definite plan of action, he was just largely a victim of fortunate circumstance: "Entirely due to circumstances and possibly because I never did take any action. I could look back on my life and say I planned it that way, but I didn't plan to be an actor, nor a director, nor a writer." Full details of Alan Ayckbourn's career as an actor can be found here.

2) What is Alan Ayckbourn's connection to Sir Donald Wolfit?
After Alan left Haileybury, a tutor - Edgar Matthews - arranged for Alan to join Sir Donald Wolfit’s company for three weeks during the Edinburgh Festival. Alan was an acting assistant stage manager (an ASM with occasional acting roles) and appeared in the play The Strong Are Lonely.

3) What was Alan's first professional acting role following this?
Alan’s first professional acting role was in Emlyn William's The Corn Is Green at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing.

4) What was Alan’s first acting role at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (then Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre)?
Alan’s first role at Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, was Eric Birling in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls.

5) What was Alan Ayckbourn’s final acting role?
Alan’s final stage role was as Jerry Ryan in William Gibson's Two For The Seesaw, performed at the Civic Theatre, Rotherham. He played opposite Heather Stoney, whom he would marry in 1997.
However, it should be noted that - unexpectedly - Alan Ayckbourn briefly stepped out of retirement during 2020 with the world premiere of his play
Anno Domino. This was premiered as an audio stream, due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and Alan recorded the entire play at his own home with all eight roles divided between himself and his wife, Heather Stoney (formerly a professional actor too). He would follow this up later in the same year boy taking all the roles in his own audio adaptation of his play Haunting Julia.

6) Any other exceptions to the acting roles?
On the Sunday after How The Other Half Loves had its world premiere in 1969 at Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, the actor Jeremy Franklin slipped a disc. As a result Alan stepped in to play the role of Frank Foster for that week’s four remaining performances. Alan also took to the stage briefly in 2005 during the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 50th anniversary programme 50 Years New, when he played Dennis in a scene from Just Between Ourselves. In 2023, he also took to the stage for a rehearsed reading of this previously unseen work, Truth Will Out, playing the role of Jim Tungsten. Also Alan Ayckbourn has frequently played the off-stage pre-recorded roles in many of his world premieres, most family the foul-mouthed Arthur in Private Fears In Public Places.

7) What is Alan Ayckbourn's connection to Harold Pinter? Is it true Alan Ayckbourn appeared in a Harold Pinter directed play?
Alan Ayckbourn appeared as Stanley in only the second production of Harold Pinter’s play The Birthday Party, directed by Harold Pinter himself for a three month rep tour from January 1959.
Intriguingly, this production by
Stephen Joseph’s Studio Theatre company is rarely mentioned in conjunction with the history of the play or the playwright, but is notable for several reasons:
It was the first professional production of Pinter's own work to be directed by Pinter himself.
Pinter himself has said the production restored his confidence in both the play and his abilities as a playwright.
It is demonstrably the first professional production of The Birthday Party following its critical panning in London in May 1958; this is in contrast to the Tower Theatre’s production in London in May 1959 which is frequently cited as the second production of the play.
Alan Ayckbourn’s experiences with the play undoubtedly influenced him in the very early stages of his professional playwriting career (Alan was commissioned by Stephen Joseph to write his first play at approximately the same time as rehearsing the Pinter play).
Alan’s experiences of the play and being directed by Harold Pinter can be found

All research by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright of Haydonning Ltd.