Tag Archives: Ayckbourn

Throwback #6

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.

The cast L to R; Rob Newton, Phil Johnson, Gill Collins, Tina Addington, Rachel Miller, Steve Howland and somewhere.. Dianne Turner. Probably still lost in her squirrel costume or burying nuts.

But as I said, despite these humorous memories, we put on a great production and the audience only saw performances they thoroughly enjoyed.

Plenty of backstage and front of house support – it was needed! Anneka Stephenson (standing far right) was on hand to choreograph our dance routine.

More memories soon!

Keep following us or register your email on this website to keep up to date with future posts and news, when it comes, of when we can resume our productions. Fingers crossed!


Throwback #3

BEDROOM FARCE (2007)

Is time flying by? In a period when you might expect it to be dragging it seems that the days are rushing past and the one week gap I planned between this post and the previous has become, apparently, an 18 day week.

Another case of time flying by is the thirteen years that have passed since we performed Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce.

About ‘Bedroom Farce’

Produced by Janet Drewery this was our last play of the 2007 season, performed in early May.

Trevor and Susannah, whose marriage is on the rocks, inflict their miseries on their nearest and dearest: three couples whose own relationships are tenuous at best.

Typically, Ayckbourn’s titles are misleading – Bedrooms are certainly featured but it’s not really a farce, but a comedy that takes place sequentially in the three beleaguered couples’ bedrooms during one endless Saturday night of co-dependence and dysfunction; beds, tempers, and domestic order are ruffled, leading all the players to a hilariously touching epiphany.

Our sets are always challenging but creating three bedrooms with beds, at different levels, on that stage was a special demand, not just for building it but for sourcing three beds (and disposing / returning them afterwards) and for the actors having to move throughout the play between the bedrooms. Even at dress rehearsal actors were heard to be shouting “Excuse me, just which bedroom am I supposed to be in at the moment please?” Although perhaps the true quotation was somewhat more blunt and explicit at the time.

The cast; ; Back row L to R, Rob Newton, Dianne Turner, Richard Bateman, Wendy Elliot
In bed: L to R Phil Johnson, Jayne Hewson, Gill Collins, Steve Howland.

Our dress rehearsal photos were not as well served in those days for some reason only a few non-digital prints were taken – but here they are – please scroll through the gallery.

As with most plays, not everything went to plan, although the audience is (usually) unaware. This play remains in our memory for the broken finger incident. On the first night Jayne tripped and fell over a stage prop on the very condensed stage. The result, not immediately obvious other than the blinding pain, was a broken finger. This misfortune made it somewhat difficult for her to do the quick costume change backstage and even harder to carry out a comedy scene where she was undressed in bed and was supposed to put on a dress whilst under the covers. Working with one hand she managed to put the dress on – back to front – a longer than expected scene as she agonisingly corrected the problem while the Producer wondered what was happening as, to the audience, the bed took on the appearance of a sack of ferrets having a fight.

Most of the cast were very concerned about her while I, in my usual state of self-absorbed oblivion back stage between scenes, somehow remained ignorant of the situation, even to the extent that when she stepped briefly into the wings, pale faced and in anguish, lifted her hand with her little finger twisted in an unnatural position and mouthed (so she told me later) “it’s definitely broken” I simply grinned and gave her a thumbs up and mouthed ‘Great!”

My apparent lack of empathy and social awareness on that day remains a talking point, and my intuitive lip reading ability is still non-existent.

With her fingers bound after an A&E visit, she was able to perform the following nights, albeit with difficulty in those awkward on stage scenes. Well, as they say – “the show must…..” – you know the rest.

Backstage crew: Rachel Miller, Janet Drewery (Producer), Barbara Failey, Tina Addington, Dave Ralph and Bernard Reuben (in front)

More reminiscences and a dive into the archives in our next post!


All RolePlay’d out

It seems crazy. Just twelve weeks from initial move blocking to dismantling the set after the play.  A frenzied few days of set building, a performance week and then dismantling and packing away and by Sunday 1pm it was as though it had never happened – except for the buzz and the thrill of performing a wonderful script and the appreciative feedback of our audiences.

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Justin’s riverside apartment

We were proud of the set which, as usual, was constructed over a weekend.  Somehow we were able to create within that limited space a lounge and galley kitchen, and the all-important balcony overlooking the river.

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Backstage, the audience is in and 10 minutes to go to the final performance

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As Derek and Dee Jobson, backstage, waiting to go on

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The cast and their curtain call line-up

It was an enjoyable evening for all, not least for new member Gary (2nd from R), who successfully completed his first acting performance as ex-boxer and minder, Micky.

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The after play party on the stage

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RolePlay’s Director Jayne, justifiably pleased with the production, having after play drinks with Richard who had co-ordinated the construction of the set.  Without the help of his friends and other local supporters of our group we would not be able to complete our ambitious sets.

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Jayne found time to bake a celebratory RolePlay cake to follow the pizzas and flowing wine

Our Monday night our General meeting confirmed what we already knew, that the play had proved popular with our audiences and that our ticket sales had led once again to almost capacity nights.  And we are seeing increasing numbers of new faces in our audiences too.

We can’t wait to show you our photos from the dress rehearsal performance in our next post, which will appear this week.

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