Alan Ayckbourn: Director

To most people Alan Ayckbourn is best known as one of the country’s most successful living playwrights.
Ask Alan what he thinks though and his answer might surprise.

"I always consider myself as a director who writes rather than a writer who directs, because directing takes up so much of my time.”
Alan Ayckbourn

Plays Directed

(Non-Ayckbourn only)
Abiding Passions
An Englishman's Home
Angels In Love
At The End Of The Day
Augustus Carp Esq.
Away From It All
Baby On Board
The Ballroom
Before Your Very Eyes
Black Comedy
The Boys And The Girls
The Breadwinner
Breaking Legs
Bricks 'n' Mortar
The Brontës Of Haworth
But Fred Freud Is Dead
The Caretaker (1962)
The Caretaker (1963)
The Caretaker (1976)
The Chimes
The Conservatory
Conversations With My
Father (1994)
Conversations With My
Father (1995)
The Crucible
David Copperfield
Dear Uncle
The Dining Room
A Doll's House
The Dynamic Death-Defying
Leap Of Peter Satupon The
Eden End
Fallen Angels
Figuring Things
Fool To Yourself
Frost At Midnight
The Glass Menagerie
The Haunt Of Mr Fossett
His Monkey Wife
Imaginary Lines
Knights In Plastic Armour
Last Of The Red Hot Lovers
Later Life
Little Brother, Little Sister
A Little Stiff Built Chap
Love Off The Shelf
Love Songs For
A Man For All Seasons
The Mating Season
Miss Julie
Mother Country
Near Cricket St Thomas,
Nine Floors Not Counting
the Mezzanine
One Over The Eight
The Parasol
Patriotic Bunting
The Rainbow Machine
The Referees
The Rehearsal
Rookery Nook
The Safari Party (2002)
The Safari Party (2003)
Saint Trixie
Saturday, Sunday, Monday
The Seagull
The Shy Gasman
They're Playing Our Song
A Thief In Time
A Thousand Clowns
Three Men In A Boat
Time And The Conways
'Tis Pity She's A Whore
Tom, Dick And Harry
Tons Of Money (1985)
Tons Of Money (1986)
Travelling Hopefully
A Trip To Scarborough
Two For The Seesaw
Two Weeks With The Queen
Uncle Vanya
A View From The Bridge
The Village Fete
Wife Swapping - Italian
Wild Honey
The Wizard Of Oz
Wolf At The Door
You Should See Us Now
Alan’s career as a director is often over-looked, yet his professional directing career spans more than six decades and in excess of 350 productions from Scarborough to New York.
That he considers himself a director first is understandable considering Alan’s formative directing experiences came when he was barely recognised for his writing, having had only three plays professionally produced and being better known as an actor.
In 1961, the founder of Scarborough’s
Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre and Alan’s most significant mentor suggested he might consider directing.

“Stephen Joseph gradually encouraged me to direct in order to put a spoke in the wheels of my acting career, but that is a poisoned chalice for an actor; if they get the taste for directing, they slowly tire of acting because directing is global and you have a view of the entire production.”
Alan Ayckbourn

Alan’s first play was the classic Victorian chiller
Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton, which was well received with The Stage praising the ‘polished’ production. This led to more opportunities, guided by Stephen Joseph who offered Alan advice on directing as he had done previously with writing.

“He talked about directing with great knowledge and authority. Stephen really was a Renaissance man and he taught me in short sentences what writing was about, what directing was about and then left me to discover it for myself.”
Alan Ayckbourn

As directing and writing became ever more pervasive, Alan’s interest in acting declined and in 1964, he left the profession - although it may well have been a case of jumping before being pushed!

“I became more and more objective about what was happening as a director and a less objective actor. I was a waste of space as an actor by the end of it!”
Alan Ayckbourn

Alan soon showed a natural interest in directing his own plays; which was frequently discouraged at the time.

“I didn’t begin with the idea of directing my own plays; in fact at the time, people said writers should not direct their own plays. It wasn’t done, although there were notable exceptions including Noël Coward. And then I was slowly allowed to direct my plays in Scarborough, but never in London.”
Alan Ayckbourn

This was a career-defining step. His first directorial experience with his own work was at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, directing a revival of his 1961 play
Standing Room Only; this marked the first time Alan had directed a production of one of his own plays. Later that year, he would direct the world premiere of one of his plays for the first time when Mr Whatnot made its debut at the same venue.

"I am primarily a director who writes about one play a year. I get lots of fun from directing. If I just wrote I would miss the contact with other people. Writing in the end is just you and a sheet of paper - and day after day it becomes rather soul-destroying. I like working with actors. Directing is a fascinating craft."
Alan Ayckbourn

It would be four years before Alan directed one of his own plays again (in the interim, Stephen Joseph directed the world premiere of
Meet My Father at Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, during 1965 which would later be retitled Relatively Speaking and go on to considerable success). In 1967, several months prior to Stephen Joseph's death, he directed the world premiere of The Sparrow at Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre. Subsequently he has directed the world premieres of every play he has written since 1967 and all but two of these plays have received their world premieres in Scarborough; the exceptions being the West End musical Jeeves and A Small Family Business which he wrote specifically for the National Theatre.

"I hope that if I have a quality as a director it is the ability to make rehearsals as easy as possible; easy in the sense that actors feel free to create in them. I tend to lead from behind and act as a sounding board."
Alan Ayckbourn

In 1972, Alan became Artistic Director of Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre and directing became his predominant career - that season included his first production of a Chekhov play, Uncle Vanya (he also directed Chekhov’s The Seagull in 1979 and directed his own adaptation of Uncle Vanya - Dear Uncle - 2011). While Alan has always been seen as a prolific writer, this was as nothing compared to his directing; between 1979 and 2009, it was not unusual for him to direct between five and ten productions a year.
Despite this, his directing career was not particularly recognised outside Scarborough. Wider recognition would only come when he began to direct in London. Alan first directed in the West End when he directed - uncredited - the transfer and recasts of
The Norman Conquests in 1975. His first 'official' production was at the invitation of Peter Hall to co-direct the London premiere of Bedroom Farce at the National Theatre in 1977.
Between 1977 and 2002, Alan would direct the majority of the London premieres of his plays with more than 35 directing credits in the West End and at the National Theatre. Substantial recognition had to wait until 1987 though, when Alan was on a two year sabbatical from Scarborough as a company director at the National Theatre. One of his stated intentions there was “to establish a reputation as a director."

"I had to go and try a few muscles in London [with this two years at the National Theatre]. One of my ambitions was to establish myself as a director. I was known as a writer although I have been directing longer than I have been writing." *
Alan Ayckbourn

His production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge achieved this and received extraordinary reviews. The critic Michael Billington succinctly wrote: “It remains one of the great productions of our time” and Sheridan Morley said: "It is hard to believe that there ever has been, or perhaps ever will be, a better production of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge"; Morley also famously spoke to Miller, who had nothing but praise for Alan.

"It's author, Arthur Miller, once told me this was the best one [production of A View From The Bridge] he had ever seen."
Sheridan Morley

A View From The Bridge
garnered Alan his first Olivier nomination for directing and what had been known in Scarborough for many years was finally acknowledged in London, here was not only a world class playwright, but also a world class director.
Since then Alan has frequently been asked to direct for some of the most respected companies in this country and abroad, although he has regularly declined due to his commitment to the Stephen Joseph Theatre; he has notably directed one of his own plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
This relationship with the Stephen Joseph Theatre led to a significant recognition of Alan's directing talents in 2005 when he took his production of
Private Fears In Public Places to New York. Reviews tended towards the superlative and highlights included Time magazine naming it its first choice play of 2005, praising “Ayckbourn’s delicate, understated direction.”
In 2002, Alan stepped down from directing plays by authors other than himself to both reduce his workload and to concentrate on his own plays. Between 1961 and 2002, he directed approximately 100 plays on stage by authors other than himself ranging from Chekhov to Ibsen, Shakespeare to Shaw as well as directing the world premieres of numerous plays by new writers nurtured by the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
More than sixty years on, Alan’s passion for directing is undiminished and even now he generally directs at least two productions a year. To his mind, at least, there is now virtually no way to separate the director from the writer and it is something which is crucial and dear to him.

“Two things I live for. One is being in a rehearsal room. The other is writing a new play.”
Alan Ayckbourn

* Not actually true as Alan began professionally writing in 1959 and professional directing in 1961.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.