IMPROBABLE FICTION (2008)
Going back to 2008 and the very mention of ‘Improbable Fiction’ brings wry smiles to the cast as they think ‘costumes’. More of that shortly.
Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Improbable Fiction’ was the final play of the season before our summer break that year. It had read well and we all found it hilarious and zany and we looked forward to rehearsals. Janet Drewery took on the responsibility for producing and directing this ambitious production.
It is a light hearted play that centres around Arnold, who runs the Pendon Writers Circle, a group of not particularly talented, unexciting, amateur, aspirational wannabe authors. Arnold himself is a writer of instruction manuals – which gives you an idea of the level of his creative imagination. With his unseen bedridden mother upstairs they meet regularly in his front room. Act One amusingly shows one of these meetings and reveals the characters and their planned novels.
Improbable Fiction by Alan Ayckbourn, performed in 2008
Where the whole play bursts into farcical dream-like fantasy is act two where by some mysterious means the ever sensible and boring Arnold finds himself living in those novels brought vividly to life. However, all five novels and genres become entwined in a comic saga of mayhem that leaves poor Arnold in a very confused state.
Now let me say up front that this was a successful and fun play to do, a production we are proud of. I say all this because behind the scenes we also have fond and amusing memories where things didn’t always quite go to plan……..
When I said earlier ‘costumes’ comes to mind that was related to the ambitious second act. Act one was normality for us. But I doubt the audience were ready for the zany antics of act two. Neither were we really. With no scene changes, just continuous action throughout the whole play, we knew that we were coming off and on stage as different characters with different costumes as we swapped continually between the interwoven five storylines of the writers’ imagination.
Slideshow: Act One
Only when we all went to a Leeds costumiers to select what turned out to be our largest collection of costumes for a single play and possibly our largest hire bill did we begin to realise what we had in store. It was only when the hire costumes arrived – in time for the tech and dress rehearsals – that the practicalities of everyone actually getting into various costumes at speed, to go on for a few lines, and then off and into another, did we realise the challenges we had. Rehearsals had involved no costume changes other than in our imagination. Reality, we discovered, took ten times as long.
The audience was subjected to such a frenzied fast moving confusion of zany characters and plots that they could never have known the tension, stress and sweat backstage, with just seconds to change; the shouts backstage of “which ******* character am I now?” and “Which ***** outfit am I supposed to be in?” We were very afraid of turning up for a three minute scene in the wrong costume. Indeed even our lines had us confused as we announced ourselves with wrong names…. It was, however, all in keeping with the manic plot and unless your name was Alan Ayckbourn the audience could never have known.
Slideshow: Act Two
And who can forget Dianne’s stunning portrayal of a squirrel. Our fondest memory, and hers, was the night she seemed to be wandering around the stage in a drunken fashion, seemingly having lost all sense of direction and had also forgotten to put on her squirrel paws. It turned out that in her frantic rush to change into the squirrel outfit backstage and rush back on in time for her entrance, she realised, too late, that she had thrown the paws into the squirrel head at her last costume change. As she dashed onto stage ramming the head into place the paws slid forward inside and over the eye sockets leaving her stumbling around blind. More suppressed laughter on stage.
As if this mix of characters and plot genres wasn’t enough – a children’s story, a romance, science fiction, crime detection and… a musical – we had to blast our way through a song and choreographed dance routine every night. The song and dance “There’ll be light at the end of the tunnel” took on a new meaning one night when the lighting cable suddenly disconnected plunging the stage into darkness. With a frantic and stressed Richard scrabbling and cursing in the pitch black under the mixer desk amidst a spaghetti bunch of cables we valiantly carried on in true showmanship fashion, our costume glitter sparkling in the pale green hue of the emergency lights. As full light was restored moments later to the line ‘There’ll be light….” the audience was no doubt impressed with our stunning and creative lighting design.
But as I said, despite these humorous memories, we put on a great production and the audience only saw performances they thoroughly enjoyed.
More memories soon!
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