The Domino effect as Ayckbourn’s hit audio play extends online run by a week to July 2

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Performing together for the first time in 56 years in Anno Domino. Picture:Tony Bartholomew

ALAN Ayckbourn’s debut audio play, Anno Domino, will run online for an extra week in response to huge demand from theatregoers worldwide.

Available exclusively on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website, at sjt.uk.com, Ayckbourn’s 84th premiere had a cut-off point of June 25 at 12 noon, but the deadline is being extended to July 2 at midday.

The extension was announced this morning after feedback suggested that plenty of theatre fans were still keen to listen to Ayckbourn, 81, and his wife, actress Heather Stoney, performing together for the first time in 56 years.

In one of his lighter pieces, charting the break-up of a long-established marriage and its domino effect on family and friends, Ayckbourn and Stoney play four characters each, aged 18 to mid-70s.

“We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says former radio producer Ayckbourn, who wrote, directed and performed the lockdown play, as well as overseeing the sound effects at their Scarborough home.

The SJT’s artistic director, Paul Robinson, says of the extension: “So far, more than 12,500 people have heard Anno Domino, nearly 1,000 of them last weekend alone. That represents 31 complete sell-out performances in our Round auditorium, where Alan’s shows are usually premiered.

“People have listened in from all over the globe, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.

This could have been the last time: Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in the 1964 production of Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre. Now, instead, they are performing together again in Ayckbourn’s 2020 audio play Anno Domino

“We’re keen to make it accessible to as many people as possible, so we’ve decided to extend the listening period by a week, but this really will be your last opportunity to hear it!”

Anno Domino proved particularly popular in the United States – where Ayckbourn’s plays are performed regularly in New York – after being reviewed favourably in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and featuring on Morning Edition, the nationwide flagship show of National Public Radio.

This summer, Ayckbourn should have been directing the world premiere of his 83rd play, Truth Will Out, ironically featuring a virulent computer virus, preceded by his revival of his 1976 comedy, Just Between Ourselves, “the one with the car”, that would have opened last Thursday until the Covid-19 pandemic intervened.

Instead, recording at their Scarborough home, Ayckbourn and Stoney acted together for the first time since performing in William Gibson’s American two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964: Ayckbourn’s exit stage left from treading the boards on a professional stage.

Stoney’s last full season as an actress was at the SJT in the 1985 repertory company that presented the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind.

Ayckbourn says of Anno Domino: “The inspiration came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand! And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

This SJT production, with a final audio mix by Paul Steer, marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and performed in one of his own plays: one of a multitude of reasons to tune in before noon on July 2. Make the most of the extension. No excuses.

No press night tonight, but Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves is under discussion just between playwright and archivist

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1976 premiere of Just Between Ourselves at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

TONIGHT should have been the press night for Emeritus director Alan Ayckbourn’s revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy, Just Between Ourselves, at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre.

However, as with the no-longer upcoming world premiere of his 83rd play, Truth Will Out, the summer production of this rarely staged Seventies’ gem has been scuppered by the Coronavirus crisis that has led to the SJT being closed.

Instead, why not head to @ArchivingAlanA for Simon Murgatroyd’s exclusive new interview with the Scarborough playwright, who discusses his classic play and his thoughts on it now. Find it at archivingayckbourn.home.blog/?p=1100@Ayckbourn.

In “the one with the car”, set on four birthdays, Dennis thinks he is a master at DIY and a perfect husband but in reality he is neither. When he decides to sell his car, Neil turns up as a potential buyer, wanting it for his wife Pam’s birthday.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

In Ayckbourn’s dissection of man’s inhumanity to woman, as two couples become unlikely friends, aided and abetted by Dennis’s meddling live-in mother, Marjorie, a collision course becomes inevitable.

Sheridan Morley said of the 1977 West End premiere: “I had the feeling I’d seen Uncle Vanya rewritten by and for the Marx Brothers.” Bernard Levin’s verdict in The Sunday Times proclaimed: “Ayckbourn has gained an immense reputation with a series of plays in which puppets dance most divertingly on their strings. Here he has cut the strings and then stuck the knife into the puppets.”

How frustrating there will be no SJT revival this summer, but make sure you do listen to Ayckbourn’s 84th premiere, his audio play for lockdown, Anno Domino, starring Ayckbourn himself and his wife Heather Stoney,

In one of his lighter pieces, charting the break-up of a long-established marriage and its domino effect on family and friends, Ayckbourn, 81, and Stoney play four characters each, aged 18 to mid-70s. “We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says Ayckbourn of a world premiere available for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, until noon on June 25. 


Nothing much happening in these loosening Lockdown days? Everything still being called off? Here are More Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. LIST No. 7

On your mask, get set…go…where?

EXIT stage left 10 Things To See Next Week In York for the still unforeseeable future in these woolly-thinking lockdown times when everyone’s gone to the beach…or Burnsall.

Make do with entertainment at home and now farther afield, in whatever configuration, as you stay alert to working out how to interpret the Government’s green-for-go rules, in the stultifying shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic that has higher figures in York than elsewhere in North Yorkshire, lest we forget.

From behind his door a little more ajar, but still nervous about comings and goings, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Your Place Comedy….from their places: Simon Evans and Jo Caulfield go online for a laugh

Jo Caulfield and Simon Evans, Your Place Comedy, streaming into your living room from theirs, Sunday, 8pm

AFTER Mark Watson and Lucy Beaumont in April, followed by Simon Brodkin and Harrogate’s Maisie Adams in May, Yorkshire’s virtual comedy project Your Place Comedy returns this weekend with a double bill of BBC Radio 4 stalwarts, Jo Caulfield and Simon Evans.

Led by Selby Town Hall manager Chris Jones, ten small, independent Yorkshire and Humber venues unite to present a fundraising evening of humour on the home front, broadcast live from Caulfield and Evans’s living room to yours for free at yourplacecomedy.co.uk. Donations are welcome afterwards.

Here comes the wickedly fabulous Velma Celli, York’s kitchen cabaret diva

Something Fabulous This Way Comes, Velma Celli’s Equinox, June 13, 8pm

DRAG diva deluxe, Velma Celli, the cabaret creation of York actor Ian Stroughair, invites you to “join me in my kitchen as I celebrate all my favourite witchy and misunderstood characters from movies and musicals”.

“Equinox is a love letter to all the witches and magical creatures who have graced our stages and screens, from Wicked to The Wizard Of Oz and every belty enchantress from the coven in between,” says Velma, who will sing the siren songs of the hags and creatures that go bump in the night as she weaves her cabaret magic at the witching hour, when daylight and darkness are almost equal.

Since going into lockdown in Bishopthorpe after an Australian tour, Ian has presented two Velma shows online from Case de Velma Celli: a fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice on May 2 and Large & Lit In Lockdown on May 16. Tickets for Equinox cost £7 at: ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-equinox-live-stream-tickets/10604915.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Performing together for the first time in 56 years in his audio play Anno Domino. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

If you haven’t heard Alan Ayckbourn’s Anno Domino yet, why not…?

GOODBYE Alan Ayckbourn’s 83rd play, Truth Will Out, postponed at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Hello instead to his 84th play for lockdown times.

Ayckbourn has not only written and directed it, as per usual, but he performs in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 56 years after his last appearance on a professional stage in Rotherham.

In one of his lighter pieces, charting the break-up of a long-established marriage and its domino effect on family and friends, Ayckbourn, 81, and his wife, actress Heather Stoney, play four characters each, aged 18 to mid-70s. “We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says Ayckbourn of a world premiere available for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, until noon on June 25. 

York Festival of Ideas had a bright idea: let’s go online for a Virtual Horizons fortnight

York Festival of Ideas, staying alert and staying home until June 14

FESTIVAL after festival has bitten the dust in Covid-19 2020, but if one event could be guaranteed to come up with a different idea, it would be…the York Festival of Ideas.

Consequently, ideas are still blooming in June, as the University of York invites you to go on a “journey of discovery that will educate, entertain and inspire you from the comfort of your own home”, under the banner of Virtual Horizons.

The festival team has worked hard with their partners to bring together a diverse programme of talks, music, activities and community trails. Topics range from author Tansy E Hoskins revealing what exactly your shoes are doing to the world (Foot Work, June 6, 1pm), to scientist Phil Ball discussing genetic editing, cloning and the growth of organs outside the body (How To Grow A Human, June 8, 6pm).

Or, if you need your topicality topping up, how about trenchant broadcaster and political commentator Iain Dale mulling over “the phenomenon” of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a talk “big on comedy and fun” (The Book Of Boris, tomorrow, June 5, 6pm)? Comedy? Fun? Just what we need to tackle the Corona crisis.

L’Apothéose in the grounds of the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, York, in 2019. Picture: Jim Poyner

Fieri Consort and L’Apothéose, National Centre for Early Music streamed concert, June 13

THE NCEM, in Walmgate, York, continues to share concerts from its archive on Facebook and online. On June 13 comes the chance to enjoy music by past winners of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, a double bill featuring Fieri Consort from 2017 and last year’s winners L’Apothéose.

To view Fieri Consort and L’Apothéose in concert for free at 1pm, follow https://www.facebook.com/yorkearlymusic/ or log on to the NCEM website, ncem.co.uk.

Cotton Bud Carousel Horse, by Vivien Steiner: Inspiration for the Scarborough Great Get Together postcard competition. Copyright: Scarborough Museums Trust/Vivien Steiner

Scarborough’s Great Get Together, June 19 to 21

ORGANISED by We Are Scarborough and Say Hello Coast, this event is inspired by the Jo Cox Foundation’s national Great Get Together: a celebration of the late Labour MP’s life and her vision of bringing people together.

This year, it will take place online and will include three competitions: creating a postcard comp on the theme of Scarborough Fair; song lyrics and a multi-genre comp for writers, poets, model-makers and performers. 

For more information on the Scarborough Great Get Together, full details on entering the competitions and more about Scarborough Fair and its history, go to: facebook.com/TheGreatGetTogetherScarborough or wearescarborough.co.uk/.

Voice of an Angel: Christie Barnes recording her role in the York Radio Mystery Plays remotely from home

York Radio Mystery Plays, on BBC Radio York, Sunday mornings throughout June

YORK Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York are collaborating to bring the York Mystery Plays to life on the airwaves in four 15-minute instalments on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap from this weekend.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

Jane McDonald: New date for her Let The Light In concert at York Barbican next summer

Seek out the good news

YORK River Art Market in July and August, ruled out by social-distancing rules. York Early Music Festival’s summer of Method & Madness in July, called off. Jane McDonald’s Let The Light In concert at York Barbican tonight, lights out. The list of cancellations may show no sign of abating, but you can always look ahead by searching for event updates on websites.

York River Art Market? Charlotte Dawson and co promise a return to Dame Judi Dench Walk in 2021. York Early Music Festival? Watch this space for the possibility of an online version of this summer’s festival emerging. Wakefield wonder Jane McDonald? Lights up on July 4 2021.

The Howl & The Hum: York band release their debut album

And what about…

The debut album for our disconnected times, Human Contact, by York band The Howl & The Hum. Jorvik Viking Centre’s Discover From Home, digital resources for stay-at-home exploration, such as videos, downloads and audio recordings about Viking life and culture. Garden centres, the real green-for-go sign of lockdown easement. Castle Howard reopening its gardens and grounds; bookings only. Walks on Hob Moor, to the Railway Pond. Crepes at Shambles Market. Pextons reawakening for DIY needs and more on Bishopthorpe Road.

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino…and return to acting after 56 years

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Review: Alan Ayckbourn’s Anno Domino, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, online at sjt.uk.com until 12 noon on June 25.

HERE is a sentence your reviewer never thought he would write. 81-year-old Alan Ayckbourn is playing an 18 year old in his new audio play.

Such is the impact of life in lockdown limbo, when the Corona crisis put paid to this summer’s Stephen Joseph Theatre premiere of the director emeritus’s 83rd play, Truth Will Out.

As chance would have it, that now mothballed play portends the impact of another type of virus, “a virulent computer virus that brings the country to a standstill, in a doomsday scenario piece, perhaps not too cheering in these darker days,” as Ayckbourn reflected.

“Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus,” he said. Ayckbourn and SJT artistic director Paul Robinson promptly hatched a plan for an alternative AA premiere, one that could be recorded at home and aired exclusively on the Scarborough theatre’s website for free.

Former radio producer Ayckbourn duly unlocked a shelved piece of writing from its own lockdown for a new lease of life as the equivalent of a radio drama that marks the first time he has written, directed and performed in one of his plays. Not to mention parade his foley artist skills for sound effects, Anno Domino rose-pruning secateurs et al.

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in Two For The Seesaw at Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964

Ayckbourn last appeared on a professional cast list in the 1964 Rotherham Civic Theatre programme for Two For The Seesaw. Sharing the stage in William Gibson’s American two-hander was Heather Stoney. “We were both totally unsuitable,” he recalled of taking on roles broken in by Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft.

Still in his twenties, Ayckbourn played a middle-aged Nebraskan businessman; Stoney, a young Jewish dancer from the Bronx. Fifty-six years since that exit stage left, Ayckbourn now plays four characters ranging in age from 18 to mid-70s, and so too does Stoney, his wife.

Billed by Ayckbourn as “altogether lighter and more optimistic” than Truth Will Out but still with “dark corners”, and introduced on the audio recording by Robinson as “huge fun”, Anno Domino charts the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn, from the land of sand, Scarborough. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”

He divides Anno Domino into two acts, the 56-minute Preparations and 48-minute Repercussions. Those Preparations are for successful West Sussex architect Sam and reasonably successful lawyer Milly Martin’s silver wedding anniversary party, where we learn they will be making a big revelation.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre artwork for Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino

At the hotel party will be Sam’s parents, gruff retired criminal lawyer Ben, set in his wary ways, prone to forgetting to put on his trousers these days, “staggering on to the finishing line” with his brusque wife Ella, the play’s “darkest corner”.

There too will be Ben and Ella’s daughter Martha, a nursery-school teacher blighted by phobias and a troubled past, now six weeks into her relationship with garage mechanic Craig, a dour, kind-hearted Yorkshireman from Heckmondwike, after depressing “waste of space” poet Sefton left her.

Martha’s taciturn teen son Raymond, or Raz as he insists on being called, will eventually turn up too to, phone in hand, cheeky eye on young waitress Cinny.

The big revelation – the break-up announcement, brought on by boredom with each other – triggers the Repercussions of Act 2, where the dark corners are ultimately turned..

The best scenes, in interchanges with advice-seeking, out-of-his-depth Craig and later Martha, centre on the domineering, blinkered Ella, Ayckbourn once more writing so brilliantly for his female characters, recalling Woman In Mind. “Because I know men,” says Ella, who has the dismissive manner of a Lady Bracknell, when in fact she does not know men at all.

The poster artwork for Alan Ayckbourn’s virus play Truth Will Out, the SJT summer production scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic strictures

Ayckbourn, in that playing-things-down way of his, described making the play with Stoney as “just mucking about in our sitting room”, but it is an utter joy to hear them performing and, more to the point, performing together, with their natural chemistry,  moving from voice to voice, the recording given a final mix of pleasing clarity by Paul Steer. There is pleasure too in visualising the characters from those voices.

Ayckbourn’s tone may be “lighter”, from an S&M/M&S in-joke with the listener to the pronunciation of fuchsia, but the barb is still there too with digs at cynical, untrustworthy, ruthless, amoral lawyers and an authorial comment on the negative perception of “light on their feet” people in the arts. Yet again, he has found more to say about love too.

“Ah well, life goes on, I suppose, life goes on, doesn’t it,” says Ben, at the play’s close. It does indeed, and there may yet be life anew for Truth Will Out.

“I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten,” said Ayckbourn in last week’s interview. “The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

In the meantime, tune in to Anno Domino, an Ayckbourn rose in full bloom but with very prickly thorns too.

Charles Hutchinson

“I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus,” says Alan Ayckbourn after Corona crisis puts paid to Truth Will Out

ALAN Ayckbourn’s play number 83, Truth Will Out, will not be out this summer after Covid-19 intervened, but spookily another virus struck the Stephen Joseph Theatre world premiere. From within.

Let Ayckbourn explain. “Truth Will Out is concerned with another type of virus, a virulent computer virus, though, which brings the country to a standstill.

“A type of doomsday scenario piece and perhaps not too cheering in these darker days. Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus.”

Truth Will Out may yet have its day at the Scarborough theatre. “I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten,” says Ayckbourn. “The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

Truth Won’t Out, but a new lockdown Ayckbourn play will, and he’s acting in it. UPDATED WITH INTERVIEW

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Re-uniting as performers for the first time in 56 years in Anno Domino. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic decreed Truth Will Out would not be out this summer in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn responded by unlocking a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

Not only has he written it, but he is performing in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage, no less.

What’s more, the 81-year-old playwright has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show, his 84th play.

Billed as a Stephen Joseph Theatre production, the world premiere of Anno Domino will be streaming for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday (May 25) to noon on June 25. 

Ayckbourn had been due to direct the world premiere of Truth Will Out, from August 20 to October 3, alongside his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, in an SJT summer season completed by artistic director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers.

The domino effect: The Stephen Joseph Theatre poster for Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th play, Anno Domino, streaming from May 25

However, once the SJT’s summer was scuppered by the Corona crisis, former radio producer Ayckbourn and Robinson hatched a plan to create a play that Ayckbourn and Stoney could record and present online.

Hey presto, Anno Domino, Ayckbourn’s audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

Anno Domino marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and starred in one of his own plays, even providing the sound effects too. Performed by Ayckbourn and Stoney, with a final mix by Paul Steer, it requires the duo to play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s: Ayckbourn adjusting the pitch of his voice to denote Ben, Sam, Craig and Raz; Stoney, likewise, for Ella, Milly, Martha and Cinny.

This SJT audio recording is the first occasion they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s stage exit left in William Gibson’s two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964.

Multi-tasking: Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: are playing four characters each in Anno Domino

Ayckbourn subsequently has pursued a prolific, glittering writing and directing career, all the way to Olivier Award and Tony Award success and a knighthood; Stoney continued to act, appearing in many Ayckbourn world premieres. Her last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, when she appeared in the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. 

Now they renew their performing partnership, enjoying “just mucking about in our sitting room,” as Ayckbourn put it.

Here Charles Hutchinson puts questions to writer, director, sound-effects foley artist and performer in lockdown, Alan Ayckbourn

What prompted you to respond to such dark times with a “lighter” piece?

“It was written long before this virus decided to rear its ugly head! Actually, before the SJT new play Truth Will Out. But the latter was an altogether darker piece and was concerned with another type of virus, a virulent computer virus, though, which brings the country to a standstill. A type of doomsday scenario piece and perhaps not too cheering in these darker days.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre poster for this season’s postponed world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 83rd play, Truth Will Out

“Still, I nearly predicted it correctly – I just got the wrong virus. Anno Domino, though, is altogether lighter and more optimistic. (Though, knowing me, it still has its dark corners!)  

You are well accustomed to the discipline of working in isolation, but has it been in any way different under the present circumstances?

“No, the past couple of months has been no different to any other year, really. Though the past few days, I have suddenly felt the difference as this was the week when I was scheduled to start for this season’s AA revival, Just Between Ourselves, which I had not directed since I premiered it back in the ’70s in our first home at The Library Theatre. I was really looking forward to revisiting that.” 

There’s ring rusty and then there’s you returning to performing after 56 years! How’s the “muscle memory” after all those years?! 

“Well, I’ve been writing and directing throughout the intervening years. When I’m writing, I tend to say everything out loud, in character; when directing, I tend to say everything silently, under my breath but, of course, NEVER out loud! Most off-putting that would be for the actors, poor things.”  

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in William Gibson’s American two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964. “We were both totally unsuitable,” recalls Ayckbourn

What do you recall of your last stage appearance in 1964, again with Heather and again in a two-hander?

“It was a production of an American two-hander by William Gibson, in which we were both totally unsuitable. I played, whilst still in my twenties, a middle-aged businessman from Omaha, Nebraska, originally played by Henry Fonda. Heather did her version of Anne Bancroft’s performance as a young Jewish dancer from the Bronx. Hallo and goodnight Rotherham, Yorkshire!” 

What are the plus points of an audio recording, as opposed to a stage performance? What possibilities does it open up?

“Interestingly, audio and in-the-round stage performance are very similar. People always say with radio plays, that they enjoy them ‘because they ask you to use your imagination’. People say similar things when watching plays in-the-round. The only difference is that audio has no pictures!”

Any thoughts on what may now happen to Truth Will Out?

“I do hope it won’t get lost or forgotten. The SJT have agreed that this was merely a postponement. Shame to lose it as it’s a lot of fun. Watch this space, as they say.”

Lastly, how would you interpret the instruction to Stay Alert?

“Keep your eyes peeled, your head down and look both ways before sneezing!”

Truth Won’t Out, but a new lockdown Ayckbourn play will, and he’s acting in it

Alan Ayckbourn and his wife Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic meant Truth Will Out would not be out this summer in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn responded by unlocking a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

And not only has he written it, but he is performing in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage.

What’s more, the 81-year-old Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show, his 84th play.

Heather Stoney and Alan Ayckbourn in his last professional stage appearance in Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964

The world premiere of Anno Domino will be available for free exclusively on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday, May 25 to noon on June 25. 

Ayckbourn had been due to direct the world premiere of Truth Will Out, from August 20 to October 3, alongside his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, in an SJT summer season completed by artistic director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers.

However, after the SJT’s summer was scuppered by the Corona crisis, former radio producer Ayckbourn and Robinson hatched a plan to create a new play that Ayckbourn and Stoney could record and present online: “just mucking about in our sitting room,” as Ayckbourn put it.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney: Re-united in a production for the first time in 56 years. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Hey presto, Anno Domino, Ayckbourn’s audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends.

“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” says Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship.”  

Anno Domino marks the first time Ayckbourn has both directed and starred in one of his own plays – and even done the sound effects too. Performed by Ayckbourn and Stoney, with a final mix by Paul Steer, it requires the duo to  play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s. This Stephen Joseph Theatre audio recording is the first occasion they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s stage exit left in William Gibson’s two-hander Two For The Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964.

“We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino,” says Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson. “It’s one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece”

Ayckbourn subsequently pursued a prolific, glittering writing and directing career, while Stoney continued to act, appearing in many Ayckbourn world premieres. Her last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, when she appeared in the world premiere of Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind. 

Robinson enthuses: “We can’t wait for our audiences to hear Anno Domino. We were all hugely disappointed to have to suspend our summer season. We were so looking forward to seeing the brilliant Just Between Ourselves – ‘the one with the car on stage’ – and the world premiere of Alan’s up-to-the-minute satire, Truth Will Out.

“Anno Domino is one of Alan’s ‘lighter’ plays, a hopeful and rather joyous piece, which will provide perfect entertainment in these troubled times. This is a hugely exciting and very contemporary response to the current situation and shows yet again how Alan has always moved with the times.”

“All relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand,” says Alan Ayckbourn . How apt for a play written in Scarborough.

The now mothballed Truth Will Out was written by Ayckbourn in late-2019 as a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation.

“Everyone has secrets,” says the tantalising synopsis in the SJT summer-season brochure. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

“All it’s going to take is one tech-savvy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down – and maybe everyone else’s along with them. A storm is brewing.”

The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s artwork for this summer’s now-postponed world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Truth Will Out

When that storm will now break cannot be forecast. Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website states: “It is not known what the future holds for Truth Will Out…”, but the truth will out on its path forward in due course.

Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th play Truth Will Out mothballed as SJT takes Coronavirus measures for summer season

Sir Alan Ayckbourn: Summer 2020 premiere and revival cancelled at the SJT, Scarborough. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

THE world premiere of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 84th full-length play, Truth Will Out, will not go ahead this summer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Nor will his revival of his 1976 garage-and-garden dark comedy of four birthdays, Just Between Ourselves, both productions scuppered by the Coronavirus crisis that has led to the SJT being closed.

Booked into the summer repertory season to run between August 20 and October 3, Truth Will Out was written by 80-year-old Ayckbourn in late-2019 as a satire on family, relationships, politics and the state of the nation.

“Everyone has secrets,” says the tantalising synopsis in the SJT summer-season brochure. “Certainly, former shop steward George, his right-wing MP daughter Janet, investigative journalist Peggy, and senior civil servant Sefton, do.

Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director and joint chief executive Paul Robinson

“All it’s going to take is one tech-savvy teenager with a mind of his own and time on his hands to bring their worlds tumbling down – and maybe everyone else’s along with them. A storm is brewing.”

When that storm will now break cannot be forecast. Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website states: “It is not known what the future holds for Truth Will Out…”, but the truth will out on its path forward in due course.

Ayckbourn’s website also reveals he had written another play, Just Mercy, earlier in 2019 for his 2020 premiere before turning his attention to Truth Will Out instead. He still hopes Just Mercy “will be produced at some point in the future”.

As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the world, joint chief executives Caroline Routh and Paul Robinson said today: “Like everyone else, we are in uncharted territory, but our current plans are based on probably being closed for most of the planned summer season, which means we’ll no longer be presenting Just Between Ourselves, The Ladykillers or Truth Will Out this year.”

Matthew Wilson and Nicola Stephenson in Hull Truck Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s co-production of Two, directed by Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych

Artistic director Robinson’s production of Father Ted and Black Books writer Graham Linehan’s  stage adaptation of the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers would have run from July 9 to August 15, with its story of the sweetest of sweet little old ladies, alone at home but for a parrot with a mystery illness, at the mercy of a ruthless gang of criminal misfits.

The SJT is making plans to be “up and running again as quickly as possible once it’s able to”.

“We are already thinking about what might be possible should restrictions start to lift earlier than expected,” say Routh and Robinson. “We are extremely lucky in that we have a couple of shows which are ready, or almost ready, to go.

“Jim Cartwright’s Two, our co-production with Hull Truck Theatre, had already opened there, so can be on our stage at relatively short notice, while Little Red Riding Hood, which was due to fill our Easter slot for families next month, is cast and the set is nearly complete – we just need a couple of weeks’ rehearsal.”

Charlotte Brooke: one of the cast members for the SJT OutReach production of Little Red Riding Hood

Adapted by Saviour Pirotta, Cheryl Govan’s SJT OutReach production of this fabled story of not judging a book by its cover, or a wolf by its teeth, features a cast of Charlotte Brooke, Marcquelle Ward, Nicola Holliday and Charlotte Oliver, who were to have taken to The McCarthy stage from April 7 to 11.

Routh and Robinson continue: “While we couldn’t, of course, see an instant return to normal, we could start up our film programme again, schedule some pieces of visiting theatre, or stage a rehearsed reading or two, all of which will bring our building back to life quite quickly.”

The SJT’s box-office team is being kept busy, working remotely to contact those who have booked tickets for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.

Routh and Robinson say: “We’ve already contacted all those who’d booked tickets for shows and films during our initial week-long closure, and we were amazed by how many of them refused a refund, preferring instead to donate the cost of their tickets or credit their account.

The new message on the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s former Odeon cinema frontage after the Coronavirus shutdown

“It’s so touching to see how many people are showing faith in our future and are keen to support us – our heartfelt thanks to all of them.

“We aim to remain an essential part of the wider community in the borough of Scarborough throughout this period, and really look forward to welcoming you all back when our doors re-open.”

The SJT is closed to the public, but until further notice the box office will be accepting phone and email enquiries from noon to 6pm, Mondays to Fridays, on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

The SJT will be posting regular updates on its website and social media channels: @thesjt.

REVIEW: Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table does not add up to riotous comedy, alas

Robert Daws’ committee chairman Ray, left, and Mark Curry’s pedantic Councillor Donald Evans in Ten Times Table. Pictures: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, The Classic Comedy Theatre Company, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or atgtickets.com/york

IMPRESARIO and prolific producer Bill Kenwright has his name on multiple shows that frequent the Grand Opera House, from musicals to the Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen To Stage companies.

Now add The Classic Comedy Theatre Company to that list, making their debut tour either side of Christmas with Ten Times Table, Alan Ayckbourn’s “calamitous comedy by committee” from 1977, the year when committees popped up everywhere to mark HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Those stellar names of British theatre, Kenwright and Ayckbourn, are complemented by a third: Robin Herford, perennial director of The Woman In Black and much else, not least past productions of Ayckbourn’s Just Between Ourselves at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Relatively Speaking, Confusions, Bedroom Farce and Season’s Greetings elsewhere.

What’s more, Ayckbourn cast him as pedantic, punctilious, punctuation and procedure-obsessed Councillor Donald Evans in his SJT premiere of Ten Times Table in January 1977.

Everything sounded so promising for Herford’s touring production, not least a cast starring Robert Daws, Robert Duncan, Mark Curry and Deborah Grant. Certainly, more promising than the gloomy forecast that the River Ouse floodwaters could be seeping beneath the Grand Opera House doors by 6am, prompting senior management to stay on watchful guard through the night.

Thankfully, such concerns turned out to be a false dawn. Alas, Ten Times Table proved to be a damp squib too: that rare occasion when an Ayckbourn play just isn’t very funny any more.

Maybe we are spoilt by Sir Alan’s revivals of his classics at the Stephen Joseph Theatre each summer season; maybe they better suit the bear-pit setting of the SJT’s theatre in the round: more intimate, more inclusive, more apt for the combative nature of his vintage comedies. Maybe it is significant that Ten Times Table has never been among those revivals.

Misfiring: Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Ten Times Table fires blanks in Robin Herford’s touring production

Here in York, on a proscenium-arch stage, as with the body of a giraffe, Ten Times Table feels like the work of a committee. Or the work of a committee like the one we are watching as they assemble maybe ten times around the table (although your reviewer lost count).

Welcome to the “miscellaneous assemblage” of the Pendon Folk Festival committee, gathering beneath the erratic lights of the faded grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel, as Seventies as hotel grey gravy and over-boiled veg and as tired as the comedy in Michael Holt’s design.

The pathway to the Pendon Pageant will be a bumpy one, all the more so for the irascible, over-excitable disposition of chairman Ray (Robert Daws), who bores everyone, audience included unfortunately, as he recounts Pendon’s most dramatic news story of the past.

Now the 18th century army massacre of the radical Pendon Twelve agricultural agitators is to be re-enacted on pageant day. Ayckbourn duly sets up matching class warfare: middle-class conservatism on one side, represented by smug Ray; his constantly peeved, overbearing wife Helen (Deborah Grant); a mad, revolver-toting military dog-breeder, Tim (Harry Gostelow), and ineffectual dullard Councillor Evans (Mark Curry).

Always accompanying Evans is his octogenarian mum Audrey (Elizabeth Power), the minute-taking but pretty much deaf committee secretary who never delivers the minutes, dithering dottily except when a drink or the chance to play the piano comes her way.

On the other side, representing the agitators, is the truculent Marxist martyr, comprehensive schoolteacher Eric (Craig Gazey), and his acolytes, the ever-underwhelming Sophie (Gemma Oaten), even a disappointment to herself, and the almost impossibly quietly spoken costume maker Philippa (Rhiannon Handy).

No idea where he is, the sozzled Laurence (Robert Duncan) stumbles from marital crisis to the next marital crisis.

Ayckbourn depicts the minutiae of committee conduct with trademark mischief making but somehow this Ten Times Table does not add up amid the personality and ideological clashes. The power-driven Ray is as irritating as the banging on the floor above; plenty of others follow suit, and, especially in the long first half, the comedy feels too slow, too forced, the timing……..off.

Charles Hutchinson

Ten Times Table adds up to three times in Ayckbourn committee comedy for Curry

Mark Curry’s pedantic Donald, right, with Robert Daws’ hapless committee chairman, Ray, in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, presented by Bill Kenwright’s Classic Comedy Theatre Company. All pictures: Pamela Raith

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table is the one with “the committee from hell and a fete worse than death”.

Premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1977, when inspired by the myriad committees that formed for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee that year, Ayckbourn’s calamitous comedy by committee now forms the inaugural production by the Classic Comedy Theatre Company, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from Monday.

This is the latest theatrical enterprise from impresario Bill Kenwright, whose Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen to Stage companies are familiar to York audiences over the past 15 years in shows replete with star names.

Among the company, alongside the likes of Robert Daws, Robert Duncan and Deborah Grant, is Mark Curry, the former Blue Peter presenter, now 57.

Taking on the role of pedantic Donald brings back memories of his own encounter with Ayckbourn, artistic director of the SJT at the time, when Mark was pretty much straight out of drama school.

“Apart from auditioning for Alan back in the day, I’ve never met him since then, but I’d love to do as he’s such a brilliant man, and I’d love to sit him down and ask him about the characters in Ten Times Table,” he says.

What did Ayckbourn say when he did audition you, Mark? “He said, ‘you’re not quite ready yet, but you have such energy’.” As perceptive as ever in his people-watching, Ayckbourn highlighted a characteristic that Curry has since brought to his career, whether on Blue Peter, in theatre roles or as a radio presenter.

As chance would have it, Ayckbourn still did play his part in Mark’s milk-teeth days as a professional actor. “I was in rep [repertory theatre] for about three years at Harrogate Theatre, when Mark Piper was the artistic director, and one of the parts I did was a non-speaking role in, ironically, Ten Times Table,” he recalls.

You’re fired! The Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting reaches crisis point in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

“I played Max Kirkov, a really strange character who walks on and carries off the leading lady, played in that production by Jean Fergusson, who went on to be Marina in Last Of The Summer Wine for so many years.”

In fact, Mark knows Ayckbourn’s comedy very well, for this latest tour is his third encounter with Ten Times Table, a “predominantly sedentary farce” – the Scarborough playwright’s own description – set in the long-since grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel.

Here, a most miscellaneous assemblage has gathered to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival, led by excitable chairman Ray. Unfortunately for Ray, his committee quickly divides as his wife Helen has a bone to pick.

Then add a nitpicking councillor, a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog-breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and turbulence is on its way.

Second time around, Mark played Ray, the fulcrum of all the chaos, on a six-week tour. Now, director Robin Herford has cast him as Councillor Donald Evans, a character whose pen portrait for auditionees describes him as “a professional committee man who likes nothing better than a good agenda. A glasses-wearing pedant who is precise to the point of obsession; always accompanied by his mother, Audrey.”

“What made me do it this time was that Robin was directing. He was the first person to play Donald for Alan Ayckbourn in 1977, by the way, and I’d done Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre in London, with Robin directing, as he always does with that play, in 1994.  

“I remember saying to him, ‘I want to play the older guy [in Woman In Black]; I’m really ready for it’.”

Instead, Mark played The Actor, the younger role in Stephen Mallatratt’s play, but perhaps he could work on Herford during the Ten Times Table run to suggest he is even more ready now, 26 years on, to be cast as Arthur Kipps.

That’s all, folk. Another moment of despair at the Pendon Folk Festival committee meeting in the Classic Comedy Theatre Company production of Ten Times Table

Mark is no stranger to Ayckbourn plays, having appeared in Bedroom Farce, How The Other Half Loves, Season’s Greetings and Joking Apart too, and after resuming the Ten Times Table tour in late-January that began with six weeks of shows before Christmas, he is greatly enjoying the role of Donald.

“He’s described as ‘grey man’. Well, I’m grey now! He’s this pedantic, boring little man and it really bothers him when there’s a spelling mistake or grammatical error! Apparently, Alan had encountered someone like that in a committee meeting!

“Anyway, Donald, who still lives with his mum, is really obsessed with details. It’s a role as real as you could make it, and there’s so much more to this part than just being a boring little man.”

Mark is rather less enamoured by committee meetings. “I remember being on a tennis club committee at a lovely club in Horsforth. I volunteered and was very enthusiastic, but what I soon realised was that while we all had one thing in common – we all loved tennis – we were all different characters who’d end up arguing, even though we all wanted the club to thrive,” he recalls.

“You think, if this is what happens with a small-scale committee, imagine what it must be like when it matters on a world scale!” 

What next might come Mark’s way? Would he, for example, fancy playing dame in pantomime, now that such a vacancy exists at a theatre not far from the Grand Opera House? “The dame is the only role I could do in pantomime now,” he says. “It would be lovely to do it.” Watch this space!

The Classic Comedy Theatre Company in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Copyright of The Press, York