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by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Alan Hooper
October 11 & 12, 1996

Evelyn Katy Clifton
Diana Estelle Dunham
Marge Dorothy Bentote
Paul Malcolm Bentote
John Mark Kimsey
Colin Tag

Programme Notes       [ Photographs ]

Alan Ayckbourn is now one of Britain's most commercially successful playwrights, with regular West End and repertory productions. He has written forty-nine plays to date of which twenty-five have been produced in the West End, at the National Theatre or at the R.S.C.

Born in London in 1939, he left school at eighteen and started his theatrical career as an actor and stage manager with Donald Wolfit's Studio Theatre Company. In the early 1960s he moved to Stephen Joseph's Studio Theatre Company, where he began directing and writing with the encouragement of Joseph. His first big success, Relatively Speaking, opened in London in 1967.

He is now Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, for which he first writes his plays. Although many of these have transferred to London, he continues to be based in Scarborough. He is also an established director not only of his own work but other peoples. He says of himself that he is a director who writes rather than a writer who directs. He received an award for his direction of the National Theatre production of A View From A Bridge by Arthur Miller. His production of Conversations With My Father transferred to the Old Vic from Scarborough.

He is a superb theatrical craftsman and his plays are often constructed around a tour de force of staging: The Norman Conquests is a trilogy of plays each of which stands on its own and presents the same events from the garden, sitting room and dining room. How The Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular and Bedroom Farce each present more than one household on stage simultaneously; Way Upstream required a river boat on the stage of the National Theatre.

His plays have their roots in the tradition of farce. He has, however, stretched the boundaries of comedy and farce as his work has developed; increasingly the comings and goings of married couples are injected with a note of black comedy and social groups have an undercurrent which suggests the darker side of human interchange. Absent Friends contains many examples of these.

One reason for his success might be that his work challenges his audience, but challenges them within well defined limits. The subject matter of many of his plays is middle class values together with a lifestyle under threat - but not too much. His characters remind us of people we know (never ourselves). The comedy comes from being thankful that we have avoided being involved with such people in such grotesque comic situations. Absent Friends is a masterpiece of social embarrassment, a beautifully intricate piece where silence becomes punishment, created, as it constantly is, by a mis-timed phrase or a mis-chosen word; "Don't drown it" requests Marge of the milk quota in her tea.

Ayckbourn makes his audience work by creating, in their imaginations, off-stage worlds and characters who are jokes in themselves. In Absent Friends the dreadful Gordon, who looks like "a polythene bag full of water" is just such a character.

Many of his characters want to be someone else. In this play John wants Paul's success, Diana wants to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. If they don't want to be someone else they don't appear to enjoy their existence - Evelyn, for example.

Ayckbourn's plays are known throughout the world - he even has a street named after him on Broadway (New York). He was appointed a CBE in 1987 and holds a number of honorary degrees. During 1992 he was the Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at St Catherine's College, Oxford.

DMH

--- SLP ---

"If you write comedies you've got to be serious about them and take the characters seriously; and all the best comedy is rooted in deeply serious things and throws light upon aspects of life we're frightened to think about. This will make me sound like Max Bygraves, but it seems to me a good thing if you can outline some of the small areas of grey anxiety in people's minds and say that this can be dealt with a little more lightly."

Alan Ayckbourn