Ayckbourn, Alan 1939–

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Ayckbourn, Alan 1939–

(Roland Allen)

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced Ache-born; born April 12, 1939, in London, England; son of Horace (a concert musician) and Irene (Worley) Ayckbourn; married Christine Roland, May 9, 1959 (divorced, 1997); married Heather Elizabeth Stoney, 1997; children: Steven Paul, Philip Nicholas. Education: Attended Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Hertfordshire, England, 1952–57.

ADDRESSES: Office—Stephen Joseph Theatre, West-borough, Scarborough, North Yorkshire YO11 1JW, England. Agent—Casarotto Ramsay Ltd., National House, 60-66 Wardour St., London W1 4ND, England.

CAREER: Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round Company (now Stephen Joseph Theatre Company), Scarborough, England, stage manager and actor, 1957–59, writer and director, 1959–61; Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, England, actor, writer, and director, 1961–64; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Leeds, Yorkshire, England, drama producer, 1965–70; Stephen Joseph Theatre, writer and artistic director, 1970–; professor of contemporary theatre, St. Catherine's College, Oxford University, 1992. Visiting playwright and director, Royal National Theatre, London, 1977, 1980, 1986–88. Also acted with several British repertory companies.

AWARDS, HONORS: London Evening Standard best comedy award, 1973, for Absurd Person Singular, best play awards, 1974, for The Norman Conquests, 1977, for Just between Ourselves, and 1987, for A Small Family Business; Plays and Players award,1989, for Henceforward … Vaudeville, and 1990, for Man of the Moment, best new play awards, 1974, for The Norman Conquests, and 1985, for A Chorus of Disapproval; named "playwright of the year" by Variety Club of Great Britain, 1974; Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award nomination for best play and (with Peter Hall) for outstanding direction, both 1979, both for Bedroom Farce; London Evening Standard Award, Olivier Award, and DRAMA award, all 1985, all for A Chorus of Disapproval; appointed commander, Order of the British Empire, 1987; Director of the Year Award, Plays and Players, 1987, for production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge; Drama-Logue Critics Award, 1991, for Henceforward … Vaudeville; TMA/ Martini Regional Theatre Award for Best Show for Children Young People, 1993, for Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays; lifetime achievement award, Writers' Guild of Great Britain, Birmingham Press Club Personality of the Year Award, and John Ederyn Hughes Rural Wales Award for Literature, all 1993; named Yorkshire Man of the Year award, and Mont Blanc de la Culture Award for Europe, both 1994; Best West End Play award, Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 1996, for Communicating Doors; knighted, 1997; Lloyds Private Banking Playwright of the Year honor, 1997, and Molière award for best comedy (Paris, France), 2003, both for Things We Do for Love; London Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, 2001. Honorary degrees include D. Litt. from University of Hull, 1981, University of Keele, 1987, University of Leeds, 1987, University of Bradford, 1994, and University of Manchester, 2000; honorary fellow of University of Bretton, 1982, and University of Cardiff, 1995; and Doctor of University from University of York, 1992, and Open University, 1998.

WRITINGS:

PLAYS

(Under pseudonym Roland Allen) The Square Cat, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, June, 1959.

(Under pseudonym Roland Allen) Love after All, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, December, 1959.

(Under pseudonym Roland Allen) Dad's Tale, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, December 19, 1960.

(Under pseudonym Roland Allen) Standing Room Only, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, July 13, 1961.

Xmas v. Mastermind, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theatre, December 26, 1962.

Mr. Whatnot, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theatre, November 12, 1963, revised version produced in London, England, at Arts Theatre, August 6, 1964.

Relatively Speaking (first produced as Meet My Father in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, July 8, 1965, produced in the West End at Duke of York's Theatre, March 29, 1967), Samuel French (London, England), 1968.

The Sparrow, first produced in Scarborough, England, at the Library Theatre, July 13, 1967.

We Who Are about To … (one-act; includes Countdown; first produced in London, England, at Hamp-stead Theatre Club, February 6, 1969; also see below), published in Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage, Methuen (London, England), 1970.

How the Other Half Loves (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, July 31, 1969, produced in the West End at Lyric Theatre, August 5, 1970), Samuel French (London, England), 1971.

Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage (includes Countdown, and We Who Are about To …; first produced in the West End at Comedy Theatre, April 9, 1969), Methuen (London, England), 1970.

The Story so Far, produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, August 20, 1970, revised version as Me Times Me Times Me, produced on tour March 13, 1972, second revised version as Family Circles (produced in Richmond, England, at Orange Tree Theatre, November 17, 1978), Samuel French (London, England), 1997.

Ernie's Incredible Illucinations (first produced in London, England, 1970), Samuel French (London, England), 1969.

Time and Time Again (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, July 8, 1971, produced in the West End at Comedy Theatre, August 16, 1972), Samuel French (London, England), 1973.

Absurd Person Singular (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, June 26, 1972, produced in the West End at Criterion Theatre, July 4, 1973), Samuel French (London, England), 1974.

Mother Figure (one-act; first produced in Horsham, Sussex, England, at Capitol Theatre, 1973, produced in the West End at Apollo Theatre, May 19, 1976; also see below), published in Confusions, Samuel French (London, England), 1977.

The Norman Conquests (trilogy; composed of Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden; first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, June, 1973, produced in the West End at Globe Theatre, August 1, 1974), Samuel French (London, England), 1975.

Absent Friends (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, June 17, 1974, produced in the West End at Garrick Theatre, July 23, 1975), Samuel French (London, England), 1975.

Service Not Included (television script), produced by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1974.

Confusions (one-acts; includes Mother Figure, Drinking Companion, Between Mouthfuls, Gosforth's Fete, and A Talk in the Park; first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, September 30, 1974, produced in the West End at Apollo Theatre, May 19, 1976), Samuel French (London, England), 1977.

(Author of book and lyrics) Jeeves (musical; adapted from stories by P.G. Wodehouse), music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first produced in the West End at Her Majesty's Theatre, April 22, 1975.

Bedroom Farce (first produced in Scarborough, England, at the Library Theatre, June 16, 1975, produced on the West End at Prince of Wales's Theatre, November 7, 1978, produced on Broadway at Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 1979; also see below), Samuel French (London, England), 1977.

Just between Ourselves (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Library Theatre, January 28, 1976, produced in the West End at Queen's Theatre, April 22, 1977; also see below), Samuel French (London, England), 1978.

Ten Times Table (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, January 18, 1977, produced in the West End at Globe Theatre, April 5, 1978; also see below), Samuel French (London, England), 1979.

Joking Apart (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, January 11, 1978, produced in the West End at Globe Theatre, March 7, 1979), Samuel French (London, England), 1979.

(Author of book and lyrics) Men on Women on Men (musical), music by Paul Todd, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, June 17, 1978.

Sisterly Feelings (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, January 10, 1979, produced in the West End at Olivier Theatre, June 3, 1980; also see below), Samuel French (London, England), 1981.

Taking Steps (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, September 27, 1979, produced in the West End at Lyric Theatre, September 2, 1980), Samuel French (London, England), 1981.

(Author of book and lyrics) Suburban Strains (musical; first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, January 20, 1980, produced in London, England, at Round House Theatre, February 2, 1981), music by Paul Todd, Samuel French (London, England), 1981.

Season's Greetings (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, September 24, 1980, revised version first produced in Greenwich, England, at Greenwich Theatre, January 27, 1982, produced in the West End at Apollo Theatre, March 29, 1982), Samuel French (London, England), 1982.

(Author of book and lyrics) Me, Myself, and I (musical), music by Paul Todd, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, June, 1981.

Way Upstream (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, October, 1981, produced in London, England, at National Theatre, October 4, 1982), Samuel French (London, England), 1983.

(Author of book and lyrics) Making Tracks (musical), music by Paul Todd, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, December 16, 1981.

Intimate Exchanges (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, June 3, 1982, produced in the West End at the Ambassadors Theatre, August 14, 1984), Samuel French (London, England), 1985.

It Could Be Any One of Us, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1983.

A Chorus of Disapproval (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1984, produced in the West End at the Lyric Theatre, 1986), Samuel French (London, England), 1985, screenplay adaptation by Ayckbourn and Michael Winner, Southgate Entertainment, 1989.

The Westwoods, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1984, produced in London, England, at Etcetera Theatre, May 31, 1987.

Woman in Mind (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1985, produced in the West End at Vaudeville Theatre, 1986), Faber (London, England), 1986, Samuel French (London, England), 1987.

A Small Family Business (first produced at Royal National Theatre, June 5, 1987), Faber (London, England), 1987, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1988.

Henceforward … (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, July 30, 1987, produced in the West End at Vaudeville Theatre, November 21, 1988), Faber (London, England), 1989.

Man of the Moment, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, August 10, 1988, produced in London, England, 1990.

(Adaptor) Will Evans and Valentine, Tons of Money: A Farce, Samuel French (London, England), 1988.

Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1988), Faber (London, England), 1989.

The Revengers' Comedies, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, 1989.

Body Language (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, May 16, 1990), Samuel French (London, England), 2001.

Callisto 5 (produced in Scarborough, England, 1990), Samuel French (London, England), 1995.

My Very Own Story: A Play for Children (produced in Scarborough, England, 1991), Samuel French (London, England), 1995.

Wildest Dreams, first produced in Scarborough, England, 1991.

Ernie's Incredible Illucinations, published together with A Day in the Life of Tich Oldfield, by Alan England, Thornes, 1991.

A Cut in the Rates, Samuel French (London, England), 1991.

Time of My Life, first produced in Scarborough, England, April 21, 1992.

Dreams from a Summer House, first produced in Scarborough, England, August 26, 1992.

(Adaptor) Henry Becque, Wolf at the Door, translated by David Walker, Samuel French (London, England), 1993.

Communicating Doors, first produced in Scarborough, England, February 2, 1994.

Haunting Julia, first produced in Scarborough, England, April 20, 1994.

The Musical Jigsaw Play, first produced in Scarborough, England, December 1, 1994.

A Word from Our Sponsor, first produced in Scarborough, England, April 20, 1995.

This Is Where We Came In, Samuel French (London, England), 1995.

By Jeeves, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first produced in Scarborough, England, then Duke of York Theatre, London, England, 1996.

The Champion of Paribanou, first produced in Scarborough, England, December 4, 1996.

Things We Do for Love, first produced in Scarborough, England, April 24, 1997, produced in London, England, 1998.

Family Circles: A Comedy, Samuel French (London, England), 1997.

It Could Be Any One of Us: A Comedy, Samuel French (London, England), 1998.

A Word from Our Sponsor: A Musical Play, Samuel French (London, England), 1998.

Comic Potential (produced in Scarborough, England, 1998, produced in London, England, 1999), Faber (London, England), 1999.

House, first produced in Scarborough, England, 1999, produced in London, England, at the National Theater, August 9, 2000.

Garden, first produced in London, England, at the National Theater, August 9, 2000.

Virtual Reality, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, 2000.

Whenever, music by Denis King, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, December 5, 2000.

Damsels in Distress: GamePlan (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, May 29, 2001, produced in London, England, 2002), Faber (London, England), 2002.

Damsels in Distress: FlatSpin (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, July 3, 2001, produced in London, England, 2002), Faber (London, England), 2002.

Damsels in Distress: RolePlay (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, September 4, 2001), Faber (London, England), 2002.

Snake in the Grass, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, May 30, 2002.

The Jollies (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, December 3, 2002), Faber (London, England), 2002.

Sugar Daddies, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, July, 22, 2003.

Orvin—Champion of Champions (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, August 8, 2003), Faber (London, England), 2003.

My Sister Sadie (first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, December 2, 2003), Faber (London, England), 2003.

Drowning on Dry Land, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, 2004.

Private Fears in Public Places, first produced in Scarborough, England, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, August, 12, 2004.

Miss Yesterday, produced 2004.

OMNIBUS VOLUMES

Three Plays (contains Absurd Person Singular, Absent Friends, and Bedroom Farce), Grove (New York, NY), 1979.

Joking Apart and Other Plays (includes Just between Ourselves, and Ten Times Table), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1979.

Sisterly Feelings and Taking Steps, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1981.

Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 1, Faber (London, England), 1995.

Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 2, Faber (London, England), 1998.

OTHER

The Crafty Art of Playmaking, Palgrave Macmillan (London, England), 2003.

ADAPTATIONS: A Chorus of Disapproval was produced as a feature film, 1989; numerous plays by Ayck-bourn have been adapted for BBC radio presentation.

SIDELIGHTS: "Alan Ayckbourn is the most performed of contemporary British dramatists; his plays are a staple of repertory theaters, frequently translated, and usually highly successful," according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Trevor R. Griffiths. In a career that began in 1959, British playwright Ayck-bourn has penned over three score plays that humor-ously dissect the British middle class, and, by extension, explore the quotidian adventures and misadventures of the bourgeois worldwide. Ayckbourn is generally considered Great Britain's most successful living playwright, with his comedies appearing regularly in London's West End theatres, earning the author handsome royalties as well as an international reputation. London Times reviewer Anthony Masters observed that Ayckbourn's work since the mid-1960s "is rich in major and minor masterpieces that will certainly live and are now overdue for revival." A prolific writer who often crafts his dramas just shortly before they are due to be staged, Ayckbourn extracts wry and disenchanted humor from the dull rituals of English middle-class life. Nation contributor Harold Clurman wrote that the dramatist is "a master hand at turning the bitter apathy, the stale absurdity which most English playwrights now find characteristic of Britain's lower-middle-class existence into hilarious comedy." Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Albert E. Kalson described a typical Ayckbourn play as an "intricately staged domestic comedy with a half-dozen intertwined characters who reflect the audience's own unattainable dreams and disappointments while moving them to laughter with at least a suggestion of a tear." In the London Times, Andrew Hislop commented that the plays, translated into two dozen languages, "are probably watched by more people in the world than those of any other living dramatist."

Kalson suggested that Ayckbourn's work "is rooted in the Home Counties, his characters' speech patterns reflecting his upbringing." Indeed, although Ayckbourn was born in London, he was raised in a succession of small Sussex towns by his mother and her second husband, a provincial bank manager. Ayckbourn told the New York Times that his childhood was not comfortable or cheery. "I was surrounded by relationships that weren't altogether stable, the air was often blue, and things were sometimes flying across the kitchen," he said. New York Times contributor Benedict Nightingale found this youthful insecurity reflected in Ayckbourn's writings, since the characters "often come close to destroying each other, though more commonly through in-sensitivity than obvious malice." At age seventeen Ay-ckbourn determined that he wanted to be an actor. After several years with small repertory companies, during which he learned stage-managing as well as acting techniques, he took a position with the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round Company in Scarborough, England. According to Kalson, his continuing association with that group "eventually turned a minor actor into a major playwright." Nightingale was philosophical about Ayckbourn's creative development. "If he had been a happier man," the critic writes, "he wouldn't have wanted to write plays. If he had been a more successful actor, he would have had no need to do so. If he'd known happier people in his early life, his plays wouldn't be so interesting. And if he had not been an actor at all, it would have taken him much longer to learn how to construct his plots, prepare his effects and time his jokes."

Ayckbourn began his tenure at Scarborough as an actor and stage manager. He has described the company as "the first of the fringe theatres," with interests in experimental theatre-in-the-round work and other so-called underground techniques. As he gained experience, Ay-ckbourn began to agitate for larger roles. The group leader, Stephen Joseph, had other ideas, however. In Drama, Ayckbourn reminisced about his earliest attempts at playwriting. Joseph told him, "If you want a better part, you'd better write one for yourself. You write a play, I'll do it. If it's any good…. Write yourself a main part." Ayckbourn appreciated the latter advice especially, calling it "a very shrewd remark, because presumably, if the play had not worked at all, there was no way I as an actor was going to risk my neck in it." Ayckbourn actually wrote several plays that were staged at Scarborough, England, in the early 1960s—pseudonymous works such as The Square Cat, Love after All, Dad's Tale, and Standing Room Only. According to Ian Watson in Drama, these "belong to Ayckbourn's workshop period, and today he is careful to ensure that nobody reads them, and certainly nobody produces them."

Eventually Ayckbourn gave up acting when he discovered his particular muse: the fears and foibles of Britain's middle classes. As he began to experience success outside of Scarborough, however, he continued to craft his work specifically for that company and its small theatre-in-the-round. A large majority of his plays have debuted there, despite the lure of the West End. "My plays are what one would expect from someone who runs a small theater in a community such as Scarborough," Ayckbourn told the Chicago Tribune. "That means the cost for the play is about the budget for one production in the company's season, and the subject matter offers the audience a chance to see something they know, to laugh at jokes they've heard before." Kalson likewise noted that the playwright "bears in mind the requirements of the Scarborough audience, many of them his neighbors, upon whom he depends for the testing of his work. He will neither insult nor shock them, respecting their desire to be entertained. He provides them with plays about the life he observes around him, sometimes even his own." Los AngelesTimes correspondent Sylvie Drake wrote: "Ayckbourn is a blithe spirit. He has been writing plays for actors he knows in a theater in Scarborough, England, without much concern for the rest of the world. Since that 'rest of the world' admires nothing more than someone with the audacity to pay it no attention, it promptly embraced his idiosyncratic comedies and totally personal style."

Ayckbourn's early plays "succeeded in resuscitating that most comatose of genres, the 'farcical comedy,'" according to Nightingale in New Statesman. In Modern Drama, Malcolm Page similarly characterized the early works as "the lightest and purest of comedies, giving [Ayckbourn] the reputation of being the most undemanding of entertainers." Plays such as Relatively Speaking, How the Other Half Loves, and Absurd Person Singular "abound with the basic element of theatrical humor, that is incongruity, the association of unas-sociable elements," wrote Guido Almansi in Encounter. Typically revolving around extramarital affairs or class conflicts, the comedies begin with a peculiar situation that grows inexorably out of control, with mistaken identities, unclarified misunderstandings, and overlooked clues. New York Times commentator Walter Goodman observed: "How Mr. Ayckbourn contrives to get his people into such states and persuade us to believe that they are reasonable is a secret of his comic flair." With the enthusiastic reception for Relatively Speaking, concluded Oleg Kerensky in The New British Drama: Fourteen Playwrights since Osborne and Pinter, Ayckbourn established himself "as a writer of ingenious farcical comedy, with an ear for dialogue and with a penchant for complex situations … and ingenious plots." That reputation led some critics to question Ay-ckbourn's lasting contribution to the theatre, but subsequent plays have clarified the author's more serious intentions. Kalson concluded: "Beyond the easy jokes, the mistaken identities, the intricate staging, Ayckbourn was learning a craft that would enable him, always within the framework of bourgeois comedy, to illuminate the tedium, the pain, even the horror of daily life recognizable not only in England's Home Counties, … or in gruffer, heartier northern England,… but all over the world."

Throughout his years of playwriting, Ayckbourn has taken risks not easily reconciled with popular comedy. Some American critics have labeled him "the British Neil Simon," but in fact his characters often must contend with an undercurrent of humiliation, mediocrity, and embarrassment that Simon does not address. In the Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich wrote: "The best of Ayckbourn's work … is funny not only for what its characters say but because of what they don't. Between the wisecracks and rejoinders, there breathe characters who are crumbling beneath the strictures of British society." Ayckbourn may pillory the manners and social conventions of the middle classes, but he also concerns himself with the defeats that define ordinary, often hopeless, lives. According to Alan Brien in Plays and Players, the author "shows … that what is funny to the audience can be tragic to the characters, and that there is no lump in the throat to equal a swallowed laugh which turns sour." New York magazine contributor John Simon suggested that Ayckbourn "extends the range of farce, without cheating, to cover situations that are not farcical—the fibrillations of the heart under the feverish laughter. And he keeps his characters characters, not walking stacks of interchangeable jokebooks." As Guido Almansi noted in Encounter, the playwright "knows how to operate dramatically on what seems to be utterly banal: which is certainly more difficult than the exploitation of the sublime."

A favorite Ayckbourn theme is the pitfalls of marriage, an institution in which the playwright finds little joy. New Yorker correspondent Brendan Gill contended that the author "regards human relationships in general and the marriage relationship in particular as little more than a pailful of cozily hissing snakes." Richard Eder elaborated in the New York Times: "His characters are simply people for whom the shortest distance between two emotional points is a tangle; and who are too beset by doubts, timidities and chronic self-complication to have time for anything as straightforward as sex." Harold Hobson also observed in Drama that behind Ay-ckbourn's foolery "he has this sad conviction that marriage is a thing that will not endure. Men and women may get instant satisfaction from life, but it is not a satisfaction that will last long…. It is when Ayckbourn sees the tears of life, its underlying, ineradicable sadness, that he is at his superb best." Bedroom Farce and Absurd Person Singular both tackle the thorny side of marriage; the two plays are among Ayckbourn's most successful. In New Statesman, Nightingale concluded that in both works Ayckbourn "allows his people to have feelings, that these feelings can be hurt, and that this is cause for regret…. There are few sadder things than the slow destruction of youthful optimism, not to mention love, trust and other tender shoots: Mr. Ayckbourn makes sure we realise it."

Throughout his career Ayckbourn has demonstrated a reluctance to be limited by conventional staging techniques. This tendency, born in the Scarborough theatre-in-the-round atmosphere, has become an abiding factor in the playwright's work. Some Ayckbourn plays juxta-pose several floors of a house—or several different houses—in one set; others offer alternative scenes decided at random by the actors or by a flip of a coin. According to J.W. Lambert in Drama, Ayckbourn's "ingenuity in thus constructing the plays positively makes the head spin if dwelt upon; but of course it should not be dwelt upon, for however valuable the challenge may have been to his inventive powers, it is to us only an incidental pleasure. The value of the work lies elsewhere—in its knife-sharp insights into the long littleness of life and in its unflagging comic exhilaration." Page likewise insisted that while his staging skills "are frequently dazzling, Ayckbourn claims our attention for his insights about people: he prompts us to laugh, then to care about the character and to make a connection with ourselves, our own behavior, and possibly beyond to the world in which we live."

The Norman Conquests, first produced in 1973, combines Ayckbourn's theme of the frailty of relationships with an experimental structure. The piece is actually a trilogy of plays, any one of which can be seen on its own for an understanding of the story. Together, however, the three parts cover completely several hours in the day of an unscrupulous character named Norman, whose "conquests" are generally restricted to the seduction of women. In the Chicago Tribune, Richard Christiansen suggested that the three plays "fit together like Chinese boxes. Each comedy has the same cast of characters, the same time frame and the same house as a setting; but what the audience sees on stage in the dining room in one play may happen off stage in the living room in another, and vice versa. Though each play can be enjoyed on its own, much of the fun relies on the audience knowing what is going on in the other two plays." Almansi wrote: "As we view the second and then the third play of the trilogy, our awareness of what is going on in the rest of the house and likewise the satisfaction of our curiosity grow concurrently. We enjoy guessing what preceded or what will follow the entrance or the exit of the actor from the garden to the lounge, or from the latter to the kitchen, and we slowly build up a complete picture of the proceedings, as if we were Big Brother enjoying a panoptic and all-embracing vision. I dare surmise that this innovation will count in the future development of theatrical technique." Gill commented that despite its length, the farce "is likely to make you laugh far more often than it is likely to make you look at your watch."

Some critics have noted a gradual darkening of Ayck-bourn's vision over the years. The author's plays, wrote Page, "challenge an accepted rule of contemporary comedy: that the audience does not take home the sorrows of the characters after the show. This convention—a matter of both the dramatist's style and the audience's expectations—verges on breakdown when Ayckbourn shifts from farce to real people in real trouble." London Times reviewer Bryan Appleyard similarly contended that in more recent Ayckbourn dramas "the signs are all there. Encroaching middle age and visionary pessimism are beginning to mark [his] work." This is not to suggest that the author's plays are no longer funny; they simply address such themes as loneliness, adultery, family quarrels, and the twists of fate with candor and sincerity. "Up to now, we have thought of Ayckbourn as the purveyor of amusing plays about suburban bum-blers," noted Dan Sullivan in a Los Angeles Times review of Ayckbourn's futuristic comedy Henceforward. "Here we see him as a thoughtful and painfully honest reporter of the crooked human heart—more crooked every year, it seems." Appleyard observes that Ayckbourn "appears to be entering a visionary middle age and the long-term effect on his plays is liable to be stronger polarization. Villains will really be villains … and heroes may well at last begin to be heroes." Indeed, Ayck-bourn seems to have become interested in the acceleration of moral decay in his country; plays such as Way Upstream, A Chorus of Disapproval, and A Small Family Business explore small communities where extreme selfishness holds sway. In the Chicago Tribune, for instance, Matthew Wolf called A Small Family Business "a strong study of one man's seduction into a milieu of moral filth." Christiansen concluded that the cumulative effect of these plays puts Ayckbourn "into his rightful place as an agile and insightful playwright in the front ranks of contemporary theatre."

Drama essayist Anthony Curtis declared that Ayck-bourn's career "is shining proof that the well-made play is alive and well." Now in his fifth decade as a playwright, Ayckbourn continues to craft at least one full-length work a year; he also directs his own and others' works in Scarborough and at London's National Theatre. In Drama, Michael Leech observed: "There are those who compare [Ayckbourn] to a latterday Molière, those who say he is a mere play factory, others who might opine that he veers violently between the two extremes. Certainly he is one of our most prolific and gifted writers of comedy, with characters pinned to the page with the finesse and exactness of a collector of unusual butterflies…. And he can look back on a body of work that for most writers would be a life-time's effort." London Times commentator Andrew Hislop found Ayckbourn "at the summit of his career…. The security of his Scarborough nest has enabled him to continue his work remarkably unaffected by those who have overpraised him, comparing him to Shakespeare, and those who have unjustly reviled him, regarding him as a vacuous, right-wing boulevardier." Certainly Ayckbourn has more champions than critics, both in England and abroad. Hobson, for one, concluded that the public responds to Ayckbourn's work "because he is both a highly comic writer and, dramatically speaking, a first-class conjuror. The tricks he plays in some of his work are stupendous. They are miracles of human ingenuity."

Certainly it is understandable that one might become bored writing comedies for decades, but Ayckbourn manages to keep it fresh with new and innovative ideas. His two plays, House and Garden are linked in a very interesting manner. They were written to be performed simultaneously, with only one cast who must run between sets, back and forth from the "house" to the "garden." Daniel Okrent of Entertainment Weekly felt that Ayckbourn "has topped himself with an act of unprecedented theatrical invention," with these two plays. Chris Jones of Variety thought that the plays were "funny and complex," and added that, "the concept allows Ayckbourn to explore the perils of miscommunica-tion by allowing the audience to fill in the gaps in its knowledge."

Ayckbourn continued to dazzle with his 2001 trilogy, Damsels in Distress. As James Inverne commented in Time International, "trickery is afoot" in this series of plays. The first, GamePlan, is "a disturbing drama of teenage prostitution [that] turns into hide-the-corpse farce," according to Inverne. The second play, FlatSpin, is a "lonely-gal romance [that] becomes a spy thriller," as Inverne further explained, and the third in the series, RolePlay, is a "meet-the-parents dinner comedy [that] morphs into a piercing study of social class." For Inverne Damsels in Distress was an "uneven but enjoyable triptych." Variety's Wolf found the same plays an "ambitious trilogy," but also a work in which Ayckbourn "is at both his near-best and his laziest." Wolf went on to conclude that RolePlay, like much of the rest of the trilogy, "shows a writer perched uneasily between critiquing a milieu and selling out to it." Other British reviewers had higher praise for the group of plays, and despite this positive critical reception, the production had difficulty making costs. Ayckbourn had harsh words for the London production schedule of his plays which focused primarily on RolePlay, relegating the other two to one performance weekly. The playwright vowed never to stage another play in London's West End again.

Scarborough, England, continues to be Ayckbourn's home and principle theater. All of his plays since Damsels in Distress have premiered and run there primarily, including his 2003 Sugar Daddies and the 2004 Drowning on Dry Land. In the former play, Sasha comes to the aid of Father Christmas with startling results. Ben Walsh, writing in the London Independent, found Sugar Daddies a "menacing, yet humorous piece that explores the unsavoury underbelly of English society." Drowning on Dry Land focuses on the golden boy, Charlie Conrad, a man whose life seems perfect. Yet no one really seems to know why Charlie has risen so far. In his sixty-sixth play, Ayckbourn turns his eye on the media and their illusory celebrity creations such as Charlie. Lynne Walker, reviewing the play in the Independent, chided Ayckbourn for forgetting, as she felt, that "twists and turns in a storyline do need to be plausible rather than just the vehicle for a sequence of ideas, no matter how cunning they are in themselves."

Ayckbourn has also authored a how-to for playwrights, the 2003 title The Crafty Art of Playmaking. Here he lays out a set of one-hundred-and-one "Obvious Rules" in which he tries to cover all aspects of stage production. Reviewing the work in Library Journal, Susan L. Peters felt that the "overall tone is breezy, lighthearted, and fun," and that Ayckbourn's "experiences are well worth the price of the book." Writing in Back Stage West, Dany Margolies praised Ayckbourn, noting that the playwright and director "has welcomed us into his head and heart as he explains his methods of writing and directing, using ample examples from his more than sixty." Ayckbourn's "Obvious Rule No. 101" states: "No one ever set out to do a show with the intention of giving you a bad time."

Ayckbourn told the Los Angeles Times that his ambition is to write "totally effortless, totally truthful, unforced comedy shaped like a flawless diamond in which one can see a million reflections, both one's own and other people's." He also commented in the London Times that the best part of his work "is not the clapping, it's the feeling at the end of the evening, that you have given the most wonderful party and those five hundred strangers who came in are feeling better…. I don't know, but they are sort of unified into a whole and that is marvelous. That's really like shutting the door on a good party and thinking—that went well!"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Allen, Paul, Grinning at the Edge, Methuen (London, England), 2002.

Ayckbourn, Alan, The Crafty Art of Playmaking, Pal-grave Macmillan (London, England), 2003.

Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), p. 19.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 18, 1981, Volume 33, 1985.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 13: British Dramatists since World War II, 1982, pp. 15-32, Volume 245: British and Irish Dramatists since World War II, 2001, pp. 23-36.

Elsom, John, Post-War British Theatre, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1976.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Hayman, Ronald, British Theatre since 1955: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1979.

Joseph, Stephen, Theatre in the Round, Barrie Rockc-liff, 1967.

Kerensky, Oleg, The New British Drama: Fourteen Playwrights since Osborne and Pinter, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1977.

Modern British Literature, Volume 1, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Taylor, John Russell, The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies, Methuen (London, England), 1971.

Taylor, John Russell, Contemporary English Drama, Holmes Meier (London, England), 1981.

Watson, Ian, Alan Ayckbourn: Bibliography, Biography, Playography, Theatre Checklist, No. 21, T.Q. Publications, 1980.

Watson, Ian, Conversations with Ayckbourn, Macmillan (London, England), 1981.

White, Sidney Howard, Alan Ayckbourn, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1985.

PERIODICALS

Back Stage, November 16, 2001, Julius Novick, review of By Jeeves, p. 34.

Back Stage West, December 7, 2000, David Sheward, review of House and Garden, p. 14; April 3, 2003, Dany Margolies, review of The Crafty Art of Play-making, p. 7.

Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1982; July 15, 1983; August 2, 1987.

Commonweal, May 3, 1991.

Drama, autumn, 1974; spring, 1979; summer, 1979; January, 1980; October, 1980; first quarter, 1981; second quarter, 1981; autumn, 1981; spring, 1982; summer, 1982; Volume 162, 1986.

Encounter, December, 1974; April, 1978.

Entertainment Weekly, March 2, 2001, Daniel Okrent, review of House and Garden, p. 60; November 9, 2001, review of By Jeeves, p. 101.

Europe Intelligence Wire, October 9, 2002, Aleks Sierz, "Alan Ayckbourn Proves He Is a Dramatist to Be Taken Seriously"; October 24, 2002, Nigel Reynolds, "I'll Boycott the West End, Says Angry Ayckbourn."

Guardian, August 7, 1970; August 14, 1974.

Independent (London, England), February 7, 2004, Ben Walsh, review of Sugar Daddies, p. 12; May 13, 2004, Lynne Walker, review of Drowning on Dry Land, p. 16.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Susan L. Peters, review of The Crafty Art of Playmaking, p. 115.

Listener, May 23, 1974.

Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1983; March 6, 1984; March 30, 1987; October 28, 1987.

Modern Drama, March, 1983.

Nation, March 8, 1975; December 27, 1975; April 21, 1979; April 8, 1991; June 8, 1992.

New Leader, June 1, 1992.

New Republic, November 9, 1974; September 11, 1989.

New Statesman, May 31, 1974; July 5, 1974; December 1, 1978; June 13, 1980.

Newsweek, October 21, 1974.

New York, October 28, 1974; December 22, 1975; April 16, 1979; April 2, 1984; November 13, 1989; February 25, 1991; March 4, 1991; May 18, 1992.

New Yorker, October 21, 1974; December 22, 1975; April 9, 1979; February 25, 1991; May 11, 1992; June 3, 2002, Nancy Franklin, review of House and Garden; July 7, 2003, Leo Carey, review of The Crafty Art of Playmaking, p. 17.

New York Times, October 20, 1974; February 16, 1977; April 4, 1977; March 25, 1979; March 30, 1979; March 31, 1979; May 1, 1979; October 16, 1981; May 29, 1986; June 15, 1986; June 25, 1986; October 3, 1986; October 29, 1986; November 26, 1986; July 20, 1987; April 15, 1988; June 5, 1988.

Observer, February 13, 1977; March 4, 1979.

Plays and Players, September, 1972; September, 1975; January, 1983; May, 1983; April, 1987.

Sunday Times (London, England), June 3, 1973; June 8, 1980.

Sunday Times Magazine, February 20, 1977.

Time, May 9, 1979; August 13, 1984; June 11, 1990; March 4, 1991; November 11, 1991; February 7, 1994; June 13, 1994.

Time International, November 25, 2002, James Inverne, "Farce by the Book," p. 75.

Times (London, England), January 5, 1976; January 19, 1980; February 4, 1981; February 2, 1982; June 7, 1982; August 18, 1982; October 6, 1982; October 10, 1983; May 4, 1984; June 4, 1985; April 9, 1986; September 5, 1986; November 5, 1986; December 15, 1986; June 1, 1987; June 8, 1987; June 27, 1987; February 10, 1988; November 23, 1988.

Tribune, February 13, 1981.

Variety, February 18, 1991; May 4, 1992; August 3, 1992; August 16, 1993; November 8, 1993; December 27, 1993; February 12, 2001, Chris Jones, review of House and Garden, p. 47; March 12, 2001, Chris Jones, review of By Jeeves, p. 47; November, 2001, Charles Isherwood, review of By Jeeves, p. 33; May 27, 2002; October 14, 2002.

Matt Wolf, review of Damsels in Distress, p. 38;

August 4, 2003, Matt Wolf, "Legit's Energizer

Bunny," pp. 41-42.

Wall Street Journal, August 2, 1994.

Washington Post, July 10, 1977.

ONLINE

Official Alan Ayckbourn Web site, http://www.alanayckbourn.net/ (July 22, 2004).

About this article

Ayckbourn, Alan 1939–

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