Monday, 29 July 2013

Archiving the Life and Works of Alan Ayckbourn

Photograph copyright of Scarborough Theatre 
Trust/Stephen Joseph Theatre

For two years now, the Borthwick Institute for Archives has been holding the library of Alan Ayckbourn. As the author of over seventy plays, Ayckbourn is one of Britain’s most successful and prolific playwrights. But, whilst Ayckbourn is primarily a writer, he is also known for his work as an educator, a businessman and for many in the arts, as a friend. Over the next eight weeks, we will be delving into personal correspondence, drafted plays and interview transcripts in order to better understand this colossus of the theatre. And indeed, in amongst the audition notes, scribbled stage directions and countless fan letters, we have already begun unearthing surprises that have started to sketch the outline of the life and works on Alan Ayckbourn.

Ayckbourn’s first play ‘The Square Cat’ premiered in 1959 and was followed by over half a century of work during a long and exciting career. A notoriously busy man, Ayckbourn has spent the last fifty years of his professional life dividing his time between the bright lights of London’s West End and the sea-mist drenched cobbles of Scarborough, where he held the position of artistic director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. But far from epitomising the lonely lot of a playwright, shut up in isolation and feverishly scribbling away, Ayckbourn has proven himself a writer of the people. Within his seventy-something plays there inhabit the voices of countless characters; ink and paper creations that, sharpened with the biting wit of a playwright unafraid to look beneath the covers, have continuously taught their audiences undeniable truth about themselves. Be it negotiating the delicate power balance of marriage, or navigating the comic intricacies of farce, his work has continually reached high acclaim and is not devoid of even the most challenging material. Alan Ayckbourn’s work will often give the members of its audience a slap around the face that will draw laughter and tears in one sitting and inevitably send the tingle of uncomfortable familiarity down their collective spine. 

 For the Borthwick, perhaps the most exciting aspect of archiving the writing of Alan Ayckbourn is that he is still living and writing. With his latest play premiering in Scarborough next month, Ayckbourn’s vast career is a testament to the growth and development of his own writing craft. Over fifty years in theatre has produced creative partnerships with colleagues such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Gambon and Prunella Scales, to name but a few. Ayckbourn’s work also extends to the support of children’s theatre, with the playwright linked to youth groups and having written several plays aimed at an underage audience. With an archive as rich in social and contextual history as it is in professional insight, the works of Alan Ayckbourn are already highlighting new and exciting stories from one of Britain’s most revered writers.

 This post was written by Maddy Pelling, Ayckbourn Intern. 
You can read more about Maddy's work with Alan Ayckbourn's archive in her post Answering the Critics with Laughter, Shakespeare and Toilet Paper: The Comedy of Alan Ayckbourn.