ESK Valley Theatre is presenting the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 86th full-length play in a North Yorkshire moorland village.
All Lies is running at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, six miles from Whitby, until August 27, directed by Ayckbourn himself. And yes, that is the truth.
“We were approached by Alan,” says a delighted Mark Stratton, Esk Valley Theatre’s artistic director, who is Ayckbourn’s assistant director for the three-hander, written in the quietude of the pandemic lockdowns.
“All Lies was already booked for two weeks at the Old Laundry Theatre, in Bowness-on-Windermere, in May, but the feeling was that was too short a run for an Ayckbourn premiere.
“Alan has been a big supporter of our work for years and has seen many of our plays, so he said, ‘would you like to take it?’. We thought, ‘well, why don’t we put it on in our regular August slot as the institute is busy for other parts of the year?’.
“The way we’ve done it, the actors signed contracts for Bowness and then contracts for us, with Alan holding two days of rehearsals in Scarborough to help to prepare for the re-start in Glaisdale.”
Initial rehearsals had been conducted at Alan’s Scarborough studio for two weeks from April 19, “before the whole shebang moved over to Bowness” for its debut. “We’re billing our run as the ‘world premiere production’ because it’s the same production,” says Mark.
“Alan’s involvement has been right the way through until he handed over to me in order to start rehearsals for his next play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre [Scarborough], Family Album.
“My role has been minimal, as ‘caretaker’ director, while keeping the production’s Ayckbourn integrity. We’ve been wanting Esk Valley Theatre to be involved as a producer on an Ayckbourn play, without treading on the SJT’s toes, and this has been our opportunity.”
All Lies is set in 1957-1958, when a chance meeting elicits love at first sight! The person of your dreams! But will they feel the same? Once you tell the truth about yourself, will you even be worthy of them? Do you take the plunge and reveal all? Or choose the dangerous alternative and tell them…All Lies?!
Questions, questions, so many Ayckbourn questions, in a play of subtle wit and shifting sands where the truth is in there somewhere when a young couple falls in love but the little lies develop into something much bigger.
Can Mark reveal a little more? “Well, the clues are in the title! It’s one of those plays where one thing leads to another, so you don’t want to give too much away, but yes, lies are told, and where do lies lead when you spin a web of deceit?!” he says.
“It’s very much a play about two people wanting to show their best side to each other when they first meet, but what happens when someone exaggerates who they are? What happens down the line?
“It becomes that catalogue of things that happen when lies are told, but it’s also about the fragility of egos and how we want to be seen in the best light when we don’t have the confidence just to be ourselves.”
What is the significance of the Fifties’ setting? “It was the age of letter writing, pre-mobile technology, when people wrote letters to express themselves deeply in a way they don’t show themselves so emotionally now,” says Mark.
“Alan is so good at picking at things, exposing them, and while it’s set in 1957, it reflects on how we’ve changed as a society.”
All Lies is not in Ayckbourn’s darkest vein by any means, suggests Mark. “There are just a few dark undertones. It’s a light and frothy piece in many ways,” he says. “It’s more…it’s not Noel Coward but it has a lovely light comedy quality about it with beautiful wordplay.”
At 83, Ayckbourn is as prolific as ever, so much so that he has a backlog of new work accruing from theatres going into hibernation in lockdown. “Alan’s brain is so brilliant,” says Mark. “You can’t but marvel at him. Most writers would be happy with five plays in a lifetime, but Alan has written five in a matter of months!”
Esk Valley Theatre presents Alan Ayckbourn’s All Lies at Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until August 27 with a cast of Luke Dayhill, Rhiannon Neads and Saskia Strallen. Box office: 01947 897587.
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, presents Alan Ayckbourn’s Family Album from September 2 to October 1. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.
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