Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE (born 12 April 1939) is a popular and prolific English playwright.
Ayckbourn was born in Hampstead, London. His mother Irene Worley ("Lolly") was a writer of short stories who published under the name "Mary James". His father, Irene's second husband Horace Ayckbourn, was an orchestral violinist, at one time deputy leader of the London Symphony Orchestra. His parents, who separated shortly after World War II, never married, and Ayckbourn's mother divorced her first husband to marry again in 1948.
Ayckbourn wrote his first play at Wisborough Lodge preparatory school when he was about 10. While at prep school as a boarder his mother wrote to tell him she was marrying Cecil Pye, a bank manager, and when he was at home for the holidays his new family consisted of his mother, his stepfather and Christopher, his stepfather's son by an earlier marriage. It seems Cecil and Irene were not a happy couple. Paul Allen has compared characters and themes in Ayckbourn's mature plays with his childhood experience of several unconventional relationships and an unhappy marriage.
Ayckbourn attended Haileybury, and while there toured Europe and America with the school Shakespeare company.
In 1957, Ayckbourn married Christine Roland, together having two sons, Steven and Philip. However, the marriage had difficulties which eventually led to their separation in 1971. Alan Ayckbourn said that his relationship with Christine became easy once they agreed their marriage was over. Around this time, he started to share a home with Heather Stoney, an actress he had first met ten years earlier. Alan eventually married Heather Stoney in 1997.
Since Alan Ayckbourn's plays started becoming established in the West End, interviewers have raised the question of whether his work is autobiographical. There is no clear answer to this question. There has only been one biography, written by Paul Allen, and this primarily covers his career in the theatre. Ayckbourn has frequently said he sees aspects of himself in all his characters. For example, in Bedroom Farce, he admitted to being, in some respects, all four of the men in the play. It has been suggested that, after Ayckbourn himself, the person who is used the most in his plays is his mother, particularly as Susan in Woman in Mind.
What is less clear is how much influence events in Ayckbourn's life have had on his writing. It is true that the theme of marriages in various difficulties was heavily present throughout his plays in the early seventies, around the time his own marriage was coming to an end. However, by this time, he had also witnessed the failures of his parents' relationships as well as those of some of his friends. Which relationships, if any, he drew on for his plays, is unclear. In Paul Allen’s biography, Ayckbourn is briefly compared to Dafydd and Guy in A Chorus of Disapproval. Both characters feel themselves in trouble, and there was speculation that Alan Ayckbourn himself may have felt himself to be in trouble. At the time, he had reportedly become seriously involved with another actress, which threatened his relationship with Heather Stoney. But again, it is unclear whether this had any effect on the writing, and Paul Allen's view is that it is not current experience that Ayckbourn uses for his plays.
It could be that Ayckbourn had written plays with himself and his own issues in mind, but as Ayckbourn is portrayed as a guarded and private man, it is hard to imagine him exposing his own life in his plays to any great degree. In the biography, Paul Allen wrote, regarding a suggestion in Cosmopolitan that his plays were becoming autobiographical: "If we take that to mean that his plays tell his own life story, he still hasn't started."
In 1957, Ayckbourn was employed by the director Stephen Joseph as an acting stage manager (a stage manager with acting roles) at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. This employment led to Ayckbourn's first professional script commission, in 1958. When he complained about the quality of a script he was performing, Joseph challenged him to write a better one. The result was The Square Cat, written under the pseudonym Roland Allen and first performed in 1959.
Ayckbourn has written and produced seventy-two full-length plays in Scarborough and London and is the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. All but four of his plays have received their first performance at this theatre. More than 40 have subsequently been produced in the West End, at the Royal National Theatre or by the Royal Shakespeare Company since his first hit Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1967.
Major successes include Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests trilogy, Bedroom Farce, Just Between Ourselves, A Chorus of Disapproval, Woman in Mind, A Small Family Business, Man Of The Moment and House & Garden. His plays have won numerous awards, including seven London Evening Standard Awards. They have been translated into over 35 languages and are performed on stage and television throughout the world.
Plays by Ayckbourn have also been filmed for cinema and television in English, French, Polish, German and Dutch among others. Ten of his plays have been staged on Broadway, attracting two Tony nominations. In 1991, he received a Dramalogue Critics Award for his play Henceforward.... Alan received the CBE in 1987 and was knighted in 1997.
After Ronnie Barker played Lord Slingsby-Craddock in the London production of Ayckbourn's Mr Whatnot in 1964, Ayckbourn collaborated on the scripts of Barker's television series for LWT Hark at Barker (in which Barker played Lord Rustless). Ayckbourn used the pseudonym "Peter Caulfield" because he was under exclusive contract to the BBC at the time. The London production of another early play, Relatively Speaking in 1967 helped to launch Richard Briers' career, and also featured Michael Hordern and Celia Johnson.
Although his plays have received major West End productions almost from the beginning of his writing career, and hence have been reviewed in British newspapers, Ayckbourn's work was for years routinely dismissed as being too slight for serious study. Recently, scholars have begun to view Ayckbourn as an important commentator on the lifestyles of the British suburban middle class, and as a stylistic innovator who experiments with theatrical styles within the boundaries set by popular tastes. With a resumé of over seventy plays, of which more than forty have played at the National Theatre or in the West End, Alan Ayckbourn remains one of England’s most successful living playwrights. Despite his success, honours and awards (which include a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award), Alan Ayckbourn remains a relatively anonymous figure dedicated to regional theatre.
As well as writing, Ayckbourn also acts as director, both of his own plays and of other writers. In 1987 he directed four works in each of the auditoria of the Royal National Theatre, using a stock company for all four plays which included established performers like Michael Gambon, Polly Adams and Simon Cadell. Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge was performed in the Cottesloe, the farce Tons of Money by Will Evans and Valentine (with adaptations by Ayckbourn) was performed in the Lyttelton, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore was performed in the Olivier and his own A Small Family Business was also performed in the Olivier. Ayckbourn later directed Gambon in a season at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough that included Othello and a revival of his own Taking Steps. He announced in 1999 he would step back from directing other playwrights' work to concentrate on his own plays; the exception being in 2002 when he directed the world première of Tim Firth's The Safari Party - this is the only non-Ayckbourn play he has directed since Rob Shearman's Knights in Plastic Armour in 1999.
In February 2006, he suffered a stroke, and states on his website that "I am making a good recovery from my recent stroke. I received an overwhelming number of get-well cards and good wishes. I was extremely touched by the love and concern shown by so many friends, acquaintances and occasionally complete strangers", adding "Rest assured I'll be back." In September 2006 he returned to work and premièred his 70th play If I Were You at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 17 October 2006.
He announced on 1 June 2007 that he would retire as artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2008. (The actual handover date to the new Artistic Director, Chris Monks, is 31 March 2009), but would continue to direct premières and revivals of his work at the theatre.
|1957 - 1962: Acting assistant stage manager (1957 only) and actor (1958 - 1962) at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, Yorkshire|
|1962 - 1964: Associate Director, Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire|
|1964 - 1970: Drama producer, BBC Radio, Leeds|
|1972 - 2009: Artistic Director, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (formerly Library Theatre & Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round)|
|1986 - 1988: Associate Director, National Theatre, London|
|1991 - 1992: Cameron Mackintosh Professor of contemporary theatre, Oxford University|
|Play number||Title||Series||Scarborough Première||West End Première||Broadway Première|
|1||The Square Cat||30 July 1959|
|2||Love After All||21 December 1959|
|3||Dad's Tale||19 December 1960|
|4||Standing Room Only||13 July 1961||(12 June 1966)|
|5||Christmas V Mastermind||26 December 1962|
|6||Mr Whatnot||12 November 1963||6 August 1964|
|7||Relatively Speaking||9 July 1965||29 March 1967|
|8||The Sparrow||13 July 1967|
|9||How The Other Half Loves||31 July 1969||5 August 1970||29 March 1971|
|10||Family Circles||20 August 1970||8 October 1974|
|11||Time And Time Again||8 July 1971||16 August 1972|
|12||Absurd Person Singular||26 June 1972||4 July 1973||18 October 2005|
|13||The Norman Conquests||Table Manners||18 June 1973||9 May 1974||7 December 1975|
|14||Living Together||26 June 1973||21 May 1974||7 December 1975|
|15||Round and Round the Garden||2 July 1963||6 June 1974||7 December 1975|
|16||Absent Friends||17 June 1974||23 July 1975|
|17||Confusions||30 September 1974||19 May 1976|
|18||Jeeves!||22 April 1975|
|19||Bedroom Farce||16 June 1975||16 March 1977||29 March 1979|
|20||Just Between Ourselves||28 January 1976||20 April 1977|
|21||Ten Times Table||18 January 1977||5 April 1978|
|22||Joking Apart||11 January 1978||7 March 1979|
|23||Sisterly Feelings||10/11 January 1979||3/4 June 1980|
|24||Taking Steps||28 September 1979||2 September 1980||20 February 1991|
|25||Suburban Strains||18 January 1980||5 February 1981|
|26||Season's Greetings||25 September 1980||29 March 1982|
|27||Way Upstream||2 October 1981||4 October 1982|
|28||Making Tracks||16 December 1981||14 March 1983|
|29||Intimate Exchanges||Affairs in a Tent||3 June 1982||14 August 1984||(31 May 2007)|
|Events on a Hotel Terrace|
|A Garden Fete|
|A Cricket Match|
|A Game of Golf|
|A One Man Protest|
|Love in the Mist|
|30||It Could Be Any One Of Us||5 October 1983||14 March 1983|
|31||A Chorus of Disapproval||2 May 1984||1 August 1985|
|32||Woman in Mind||30 May 1985||3 September 1986|
|33||A Small Family Business||20 May 1987||27 April 1992|
|34||Henceforward...||30 July 1987||21 November 1988|
|35||Man Of The Moment||10 August 1988||14 February 1990|
|36||Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays||30 November 1988||4 March 1993|
|37||The Revengers' Comedies||13 March 1991|
|38||Invisible Friends||23 November 1989||13 March 1991|
|39||Body Language||21 May 1990|
|40||This Is Where We Came In||4/11 January 1990|
|41||Callisto 5||12 December 1990|
|42||Wildest Dreams||6 May 1991||14 December 1993|
|43||My Very Own Story||10 August 1991|
|44||Time Of My Life||21 April 1992||3 August 1993|
|45||Dreams From A Summer House||26 August 1992|
|46||Communicating Doors||2 February 1994||7 August 1995|
|47||Haunting Julia||20 April 1994|
|48||The Musical Jigsaw Play||1 December 1994|
|49||A Word From Our Sponsor||20 April 1995|
|(18)||By Jeeves||2 July 1996||2 July 1996||28 October 2001|
|50||The Champion Of Paribanou||4 December 1996|
|51||Things We Do For Love||29 Aptil 1997||2 March 1998|
|52||Comic Potential||4 June 1998||13 October 1999|
|53||The Boy Who Fell Into A Book||4 December 1998|
|54||House and Garden||House||17 June 1999||8 August 2000|
|55||Garden||17 June 1999||8 August 2000|
|(41)||Callisto #7||4 December 1999|
|56||Virtual Reality||8 February 2000|
|57||Whenever||5 December 2000|
|58||Damsels in Distress||GamePlan||29 May 2001||7 September 2002|
|59||FlatSpin||3 July 2001||7 September 2002|
|60||RolePlay||4 September 2001||7 September 2002|
|61||Snake In The Grass||5 June 2002|
|62||The Jollies||3 December 2002|
|63||Sugar Daddies||22 July 2002|
|64||Orvin - Champion Of Champions||8 August 2003|
|65||My Sister Sadie||2 December 2003|
|66||Drowning on Dry Land||4 May 2004|
|67||Private Fears in Public Places||17 August 2004||(5 May 2005)||(9 June 2005)|
|68||Miss Yesterday||2 December 2004|
|69||Improbable Fiction||31 May 2005|
|70||If I Were You||17 October 2006|
|71||Things That Go Bump in the Night||Life And Beth||22 July 2008|
|72||Awaking Beauty||16 December 2008|
There are seven one-act plays written by Alan Ayckbourn. Five of them (Mother Figure, Drinking Companion, Between Mouthfuls, Gosforth’s Fete and A Talk in the Park) were written for Confusions, first performed in 1974.
The other two one-act plays were:
Plays adapted as films include: