Ayckbourn, Alan

Tagged: Author

(1939-    ) UK playwright, active from 1959 with at least eighty plays produced; much of his work verges into Fantastika, some of which is of strong specific sf interest, including a triad of dramas which might almost (but not quite) be thought of as a loose series devoted to Androids in distressed English domestic environments. Henceforward (performed 1987; 1988) is set in an oppressive Near Future where a blocked composer uses his personal Robot to reshape his bad life, though his renewed creativity costs the lives of his family; Comic Potential (performed 1998; 1999) is set in a Near Future Television studio where a young man falls condescendingly for a female "Actoid", who is fact an entirely conscious AI capable of understanding the deficiencies of Homo sapiens; and Surprises (performed 2012; 2012), whose title seems amply justified by the complexly farcical doings, again takes place in the Near Future and beyond, involving various possibly immortal figures, including an obsequious Android. There is no Sex as such in these plays, none of the androids on show being capable of sexual intercourse; this absence marks this triad, and other similarly conditioned dramas, as occupying a cultural region significantly prior to the killing grounds of a series like Black Mirror (2011-2017).

Ayckbourn's engagement with sf began very early, with Standing Room Only (performed 1961), a Satire on twenty-first century congestion in London, featuring a family living in a bus in the middle of a traffic jam; and Christmas V Mastermind (performed 1962), an unsuccessful Christmas spoof. Though his output of fantastika would increase the latter part of his career, several plays of interest were in fact performed before 1990: Way Upstream (performed 1981; 1983), a surreal State-of-the-Nation-like drama climaxing at Armageddon Bridge; The Boy Who Fell into a Book (performed 1987; 2000), whose young protagonist awakens inside the book he had been reading, and is forced into a Fantastic Voyage through all the other books on the shelf until he reaches home; Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (performed 1988; 1989), whose villain, Constantine Accousticus, steals sound; and Invisible Friends (performed 1989; 1991), in which a rather Android-like invisible friend is magicked into existence, and becomes tyrannical.

From 1990 or so, plays with fantastic elements continue to appear with greater frequency. Body Language (first version performed 1990; rev 2002) describes an involuntary Identity Exchange involving two women, prefiguring the later If I Were You (performed 2006; 2006), where the exchange is between a married couple. Callisto 5 (performed 1990; 1995) and Callisto#7 (performed 1999) are linked plays, the second being a refashioning of the first, the two together comprising a kind of series; both are set on Callisto, one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, where a station run by an AI is threatened by an apparent Alien who takes possession of a malfunctioning Robot; in the second play, two young protagonists (rather than one) discover that although Callisto seems to have been more or less commandeered, the intruding Monster is in fact a projection created by the station Computer to keep the children from experiencing terminal solitude. The Haunting trilogy – comprising Haunting Julia (performed 1994; 2006), Snake in the Grass (performed 2002; 2004) and Life and Beth (performed 2008; 2016) – is an afterlife fantasy.

In Communicating Doors (performed 1994; 1995), a complex Time Travel tale progressing backwards from 2014 to 1974, the future begins to be changed for the better. The Champion of Paribanou (performed 1996; 2000) is an Arabian Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] with Robots added. Virtual Reality (performed 2000), features the Invention of the Viewdow, Virtual Reality windows through which one may step literally into another world; its companion piece Whenever (performed 2000; 2002), is a complex Time Travel tale set to music whose young protagonist visits a Hitler Wins version of World War Two, witnesses the End of the World in the far future, while en passant encountering Robots and Dystopias and much else: in the end the world – which resembles Oz [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] – is saved.

Some later plays, like Miss Yesterday (performed 2004) and Improbable Fiction (performed 2005; 2007), use some sf elements in an essentially absurdist frame, though Awaking Beauty (performed 2008; 2010) Equipoisally mixes sf and fantasy and the Twice-Told through the awaking of the Sleeping Beauty in the twenty-first century [for Twice-Told and Sleeping Beauty see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The Divide (performed 2015; reconfigured version performed 2017), set in a Dystopian Near Future UK after a terrible Disaster has radically reduced the population, focuses on the consequence, a savagely misogynist tyranny with women – scapegoated as the reason for the plague – segregated from men, and heterosexual relations rather implausibly forbidden; with its clear play on works like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985), Ayckbourn here utilizes the SF Megatext in as orthodox a fashion as he is ever likely to.

It has generally been the case that sf underpinnings for Ayckbourn's work are rather casually laid in, and that little sustained sf cognition is often evident. It does not seem to be the case, however – despite the live theatre's tropic tendency as a form to default to the exemplary, which is to say to allegory – that there is much sense that his frequent recourse to Fantastika that underpins so many of his plays should be understood as metaphorical. Alan Ayckbourn was knighted in 1997. [JC]

Alan Ayckbourn

born London: 12 April 1939

died

works (selected)

series

Callisto

  • Callisto 5 (London: Samuel French, 1995) [play: first performed 12 December 1990 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Callisto: pb/]
  • Callisto #7 [play: first performed 4 December 1999 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: a reconfiguring of Callisto 5: Callisto]

Haunting

  • Haunting Julia (London: Samuel French, 2006) [first performed 20 April 1994 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Haunting: pb/]
  • Snake in the Grass (London: Samuel French, 2004) [play: first performed 5 June 2002 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Haunting: pb/]
  • Life and Beth (London: Samuel French, 2016) [first performed 22 July 2008 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Haunting: pb/]

individual titles

  • Standing Room Only (play: performed 13 July 1961 Library Theatre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire)
  • Christmas V Mastermind (play: first performed 26 December 1962 Library Theatre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire)
  • Way Upstream (London: Samuel French, 1983) [play: first performed 2 October 1981 Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Henceforward (London: Samuel French, 1988) [play: first performed 21 May 1987 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • The Boy Who Fell into a Book (London: Faber and Faber, 2000) [play: first performed 30 July 1987 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (London: Faber and Faber, 1989) [play: first performed 30 November 1988 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Invisible Friends (London: Faber and Faber, 1991) [play: first performed 23 November 1989 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • This Is Where We Came In (London: Samuel French, 1995) [play: first performed 4 January 1990 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Body Language (London: Samuel French, 2002) [play: first version first performed 21 May 1990 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • My Very Own Story (London: Samuel French, 1995) [first performed 10 August 1991 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Wildest Dreams (London: Faber and Faber, 1993) [play: first performed 6 May 1991 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Communicating Doors (London: Faber and Faber, 1995) [play: first performed 2 February 1994 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • The Champion of Paribanou (London: Samuel French, 2000) [play: first performed 4 December 1996 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Comic Potential (London: Faber and Faber, 1999) [first performed 4 June 1998 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • The Boy Who Fell into a Book (London: Faber and Faber, 2000) [first performed 4 December 1998 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Virtual Reality [play: first performed 3 February 2000 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire]
  • Whenever (London: Faber and Faber, 2002) [play: first performed 5 December 2000 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • The Jollies (London: Faber and Faber, 2002) [play: first performed 3 December 2002 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • My Sister Sadie (London: Faber and Faber, 2003) [first performed 2 December 2003 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Miss Yesterday [play: first performed 2 December 2004 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • If I Were You (London: Samuel French, 2011) [play: first performed 17 October 2006 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Improbable Fiction (London: Samuel French, 2007) [play: first performed 31 May 2005 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Awaking Beauty (London: Samuel French, 2010) [play: first performed 16 December 2008 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • Surprises (London: Faber and Faber, 2012) [play: first performed 17 July 2012 Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: pb/]
  • The Divide [play: first performed 27 September 2015, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire; reconfigured version performed 8 August 2017, Edinburgh Film Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland]

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