rest assured

Alan Ayckbourn

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.

Influence on plays

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."


On leaving school at 17 his theatrical career started immediately, with an introduction to Sir Donald Wolfit by his French master. Ayckbourn joined Wolfit on tour as an assistant stage manager and actor for three weeks.

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.


1956: Acting assistant stage manager with Donald Wolfit's company for three weeks at Edinburgh Festival. 1956 - 1957: Actor at Worthing, Leatherhead, Scarborough (see below), and Oxford
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

Honours and awards


Full-length plays

To date, Alan Ayckbourn has written 72 full-length plays.

Play number



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

Living Together

26 June 1973

21 May 1974

7 December 1975

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 Pageant
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


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


29 May 2001

7 September 2002



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


Things That Go Bump in the Night

Life And Beth

22 July 2008

72 Awaking Beauty

16 December 2008

One-act plays

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:

  • Countdown, first performed in 1962, most well-known as part of Mixed Doubles, a set of short one-act plays and monologues contributed by nine different authors.
  • A Cut in the Rates, performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1984, and filmed for a BBC documentary.


  • Ayckbourn, Alan (2003). The Crafty Art of Playmaking. USA: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ayckbourn, Alan (2004). The Crafty Art of Playmaking. UK: Faber and Faber.

Film adaptations of Ayckbourn plays

Plays adapted as films include:


Allen, Paul (2001). Alan Ayckbourn: Grinning at the Edge. Methuen.

External links

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