Sir Alan Ayckbourn



  • (1939 - ) The most popular British playwright after Shakespeare and - with over 70 full-length works to his credit - one of the most prolific. His comedies have been translated into some 30 languages, and in 1975 he had five plays running simultaneously in London's West End. From 1970 until 2009 Ayckbourn was the artistic director (latterly unpaid) of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round at Scarborough, where most of his plays have been premiered. He was knighted in 1997.

    Ayckbourn's comic dissection of middle-class English moresoften reveals the underlying loneliness and despair of his characters.Recent works have become blacker. He noted, "I think inevitablyas you write about people, you scrape away the outer layers and youget to darknesses", also commenting "People tend to bea lot warier of me now. They don't invite me for dinner as much."His works are often ingeniously constructed: The Norman Conquests(1974) is a trilogy of comedies using the same set and variationson the same plot, Sisterly Feelings (1980) provides theaudience with a choice of four versions, Intimate Exchanges(1984) has more than 30 scenes that can be arranged in 16 possibleversions, and House/Garden (1999) comprises two plays forthe same cast that are designed to be staged simultaneously in neighbouringauditoriums.

    Born in London, Ayckbourn joined Donald Wolfit's company asboth actor and stage manager at the age of 18. He later worked asan actor and director for Stephen Joseph at his theater-in-the-roundin Scarborough and at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. Josephencouraged him to write plays for both theaters; Ayckbourn's firstcomedy, Mr Whatnot, was seen in London in 1964 after openingthe previous year at the Victoria. Almost all of his subsequent workshave been premiered in Scarborough before transferring to the WestEnd. In 1967 he found acclaim with Relatively Speaking, producedat the Duke of York's Theatre, London, after its Scarborough opening.Its suburban setting and acrimonious relationships set the patternfor Ayckbourn's future hits. How the Other Half Loves (1970)starred Robert Morley at the Lyric Theatre and subsequently touredCanada and Australia. Time and Time Again followed in 1972at the Comedy Theatre, while the great success Absurd Person Singular(1973) was first produced at the Criterion. In 1974 The NormanConquests opened at the Globe Theatre and Absent Friendsbegan its run at the Garrick Theatre.

    His other works of the 1970s and 1980s included the five playlets in Confusions (1976), Bedroom farce (1977), Just Between Ourselves (1977), Joking Apart (1979), Ten Times Table (1978), Taking Steps (1980), Way Upstream (1982), the musical Making Tracks (1983; with Paul Todd), and A chorus of Disapproval(1985). More recent plays have included The Revenger's Comedies (1991), Communicating Doors (1994), and the trilogies Damsels in Distress (2001) and Things That Go Bump (1994 - 2008).