Frequently Asked Questions: Popularity

This page contains FAQs concerning the popularity of Alan Ayckbourn's plays. If there is a question not listed here which you feel should be listed, please contact the website via the Contact Us page.
1) Alan Ayckbourn is often quoted as being the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare. Is this true and where did it originate?
2) It is frequently quoted that an Ayckbourn play is being performed somewhere every day of the year. Is this possible?
3) Alan Ayckbourn is quoted as being one of the most successful playwrights in London's West End, is this true?

1) Alan Ayckbourn is often quoted as being the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare. Is this true and where did it originate?
This is a quote that frequently appears about Alan Ayckbourn but without any qualification or source. Truth be told, it’s a statement that is practically impossible to verify.
Undoubtedly, Alan is one of the most frequently performed living playwrights in England (particularly if you include both amateur and professional productions) and is substantially performed in Europe and in America. His plays have been translated into more than 35 languages and there are productions of his work constantly taking place around the globe - but no organisation keeps track of all professional and amateur productions around the world.
As such, it is impossible to state with any certainty he is the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare and, accordingly, should not be stated as such. It is far more accurate to say 'Alan Ayckbourn is one of the world's most performed living playwrights.'
As to where this quote originated, for this we do have a definitive answer. The quote goes back to a press release issued by the British Arts Council in 2 November 1983. This states: "Plays by Alan Ayckbourn have been attracting larger audiences in the regional theatres than those of Shakespeare."
This was the first such report to be published by the Arts Council (click
here to see the press release) and it showed between 1981 and 1983, there were 1034 professional productions of Alan's work in the UK playing to 327,000 people (in comparison there were 1060 professional Shakespearean productions performed to 318,000 people).
Subsequent Cultural Trend reports during the 1980s and 1990s would see Alan fluctuate between first and third places in the annual performed playwright rankings. The initial 1983 report was widely reported in the media such as The Stage which announced the news as "Alan Ayckbourn had upstaged William Shakespeare to take top billing in the first regional theatre popularity charts."
It is essential to note though the quote is confined to a very specific time period and very specifically to British regional theatres. These statistics did not include productions in commercial West End theatres or amateur productions. In the former case, this would have undoubtedly strengthened Alan's position as between 1970 and 2000, there was at least one and as many as five professional Ayckbourn productions in London every year (see question 3 below). With regard to the latter, Alan has long been one of the most performed authors by amateur groups in the UK according to the UK's leading play publishers Samuel French Ltd.

The quote gained traction again circa 1990 when Alan's public profile was arguably at its peak and the Arts Council's Cultural Trends report stated he was the most performed playwright in the UK after Shakespeare. This was reported extensively in the print media - but crucially can only be applied with any certainty to that specific time (i.e. 1990) and within the specific context of regional, subsidised theatre in the UK - excluding commercial productions, touring productions and the West End. This information has never been updated by the Arts Council, so it is impossible to currently know whether Alan is still the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare.

2) It is frequently quoted that an Ayckbourn play is being performed somewhere every day of the year. Is this possible?
Actually this is far easier than one imagines and could quite easily apply to any popular playwright. To use the example of 2012: concentrating on significant productions during that year, there were three major UK tours of his work of Neighbourhood Watch, Relatively Speaking and Haunting Julia. (each running between two and five months). Add to this the two major productions of Alan's plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Absurd Person Singular and Surprises (running for five months including a short tour), the London productions of Absent Friends, A Chorus Of Disapproval (three months each), Neighbourhood Watch and The Boy Who Fell Into A Book and you practically have a full year covered before you begin to include any other professional productions of Alan's plays in the UK (at least 10 professional repertory productions) or any amateur productions. If this were to then include the many productions of Alan's taking place around the globe, then it becomes obvious it is not terribly difficult for a popular playwright such as Alan Ayckbourn to reach the level where one of their plays is performed somewhere in the world everyday.

3) Alan is quoted as being one of the most successful playwrights in London, is this true?
Again, there are no hard and fast statistics to either prove or disprove this statement. However, what can demonstrably proved is Alan had an extraordinary presence in London's theatre-land for 30 years with more than 40 productions of his plays in major London venues. Between 1970 and 2000, there was at least one and as many as five Ayckbourn plays being performed every year in London's West End. This is a unique achievement for any British playwright particularly as it is not due to the success of one play (such as Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap or Susan Hill's The Woman In Black) but 39 different plays produced during that period. Of course, this record had to come to a close and this took place in 2003 when Alan Ayckbourn announced he would no longer bring his new plays to London or allow them to be produced in the West End. This led to a period of four years when no Ayckbourn play was produced in the West End until 2007 when Absurd Person Singular was successfully revived at the Garrick Theatre. Since then there has been an Ayckbourn revival in the West End every year.
The list below illustrates the frequency of productions in London's West End (as defined by the Society Of London Theatres):

Ayckbourn plays in London (West End) Theatres (1970 - 2000)
1970: How The Other Half Loves
How The Other Half Loves
How The Other Half Loves; Time And Time Again
Time And Time Again; Absurd Person Singular
Absurd Person Singular; The Norman Conquests
Absurd Person Singular; The Norman Conquests; Absent Friends
The Norman Conquests; Absent Friends; Confusions
Confusions; Bedroom Farce; Just Between Ourselves
Bedroom Farce; Ten Times Table
Bedroom Farce; Ten Times Table; Joking Apart
Sisterly Feelings; Taking Steps
Sisterly Feelings; Taking Steps
Season’s Greetings; Way Upstream
Way Upstream; Making Tracks
Intimate Exchanges
Intimate Exchanges; A Chorus Of Disapproval
A Chorus Of Disapproval; Woman In Mind
A Chorus Of Disapproval; Woman In Mind; A Small Family Business
A Small Family Business; Henceforward…; How The Other Half Loves
Man Of The Moment
Man Of The Moment; Invisible Friends; The Revengers’ Comedies
The Revengers’ Comedies
Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays; Time Of My Life; Wildest Dreams
Wildest Dreams
Communicating Doors
Communicating Doors; By Jeeves
By Jeeves
Things We Do For Love
Things We Do For Love; Comic Potential
Comic Potential; House & Garden

Ayckbourn plays in London (West End) Theatres (Since 2001)
2002: GamePlan; FlatSpin; RolePlay; Bedroom Farce
Absurd Person Singular
Absurd Person Singular; The Norman Conquests
Woman In Mind
Bedroom Farce; Season's Greetings
Season's Greetings
Absent Friends; A Chorus Of Disapproval
A Chorus Of Disapproval; Relatively Speaking
A Small Family Business
2016: How The Other Half Loves
2018: The Divide

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd.