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Alan Ayckbourn’s Wonderful Career

Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 11:59am

By David Gardner

Born on April 12, 1939, Alan Ayckbourn just recently celebrated both his 72nd birthday and the completion of his 75th full-length play, making him one of the most prolific writers of our day. But not only prolific, this London-born playwright’s body of work has earned over 35 awards and honors, including a Tony, two Olivier Awards, two Moliere Awards, and a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. In 1997 Ayckbourn was knighted for his service to the theatre, and his plays—both new and revived—continue to delight audiences in both England and America.

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Watching with Winnie

Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 11:01am

by David Gardner

Alan Ayckbourn refuses to write or direct a play unless he’s shifting our expectations of what theater can do. Whether it’s moving the focus of a Christmas party to the kitchen—where the real action takes place (Absurd Person Singular)—or it’s staging two interlocking plays on two stages in the same theater at the same time (House & Garden), Ayckbourn constantly pulls the rug out from under tried-and-true theatrical conventions. And My Wonderful Day is no exception.

Rather than present a straightforward comedy of deceit and discovery, My Wonderful Day tells its story through the eyes of one little girl. Originally announced as Winnie’s Wonderful Day, the title of Ayckbourn’s 73rd play was later changed to My Wonderful Day—a change that signals the play’s truly innovative focus on Winnie’s first-person perspective. Such subjective point of view is difficult to pull off in drama, but throughout the entire play, what Winnie sees and hears, we see and hear.

“It’s a children’s viewpoint of an adult world,” writes Ayckbourn. “My theory being that children from a very early age - if they’re the listening sort, which I was - sit and listen and record what they hear and play back what they hear later in life. They are small recording machines, video and audio. I want to tell the story through Winnie’s eyes. It’s rather selective what she sees, adults drift away and you hear them talking in [a] corner but you stay with her.”

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An interview with director Richard Hamburger

Posted Monday, May 9, 2011 - 1:52pm

Interview by David Gardner

“You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.”

David Gardner: When you read through a script for a play you might direct, what goes through your head?

Richard Hamburger: You’re looking for the human possibilities to reveal unpredictable areas. You’re looking to see if it’s accurate to the way people actually are, rather than an idealization of how they should be. You’re looking to see whether it’s an original voice, rather than an imitation of someone else, or unduly influenced by a presently-fashionable author. You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.

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Alan Ayckbourn on My Wonderful Day

Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 2:07pm

by William Steinberger

Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most prolific playwrights at work today. His output, however, extends far beyond the seventy-three plays he has authored. He is also a frequent essayist and interviewee on the subject of his work.

Ayckbourn has spoken at length about how he sees My Wonderful Day unfolding from Winnie’s perspective. The play was originally titled “Winnie’s Wonderful Day.” The change in title reflects Winnie’s role as first person viewer. The play is a children’s view of the adult world. “Adults drift away and you hear them talking in a corner,” he told the Yorkshire Post, “but you stay with [Winnie].” Interestingly, Ayckbourn’s official website notes that “prior to My Wonderful Day, children are generally heard but not seen in Alan’s plays.” As we learn about the adults that inhabit My Wonderful Day, “Winnie just observes, writes and makes us wonder: who are the children?”

Ayckbourn also sees Winnie in some ways as the most commonsensical and mature character in the play. “Her mother is a dreamer…and she says they’ll go back to the land of sunshine and you think, ‘C’mon mum get real.’” To The Press, he described, “By the age of eight or nine, you’re beginning to sort your parents out.” He further observed, “I wanted the child, Winnie, to be quite young. Young enough that the adults would misread her."

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Hovering at the Dawn of Electricity

Posted Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 11:27am

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is, at its heart, about intimacy in an age of technological revolution, “a play hovering at the dawn of electricity,” as her introductory notes say. Its main male character, Dr. Givings, is very much a progressive Man of Science, interested in Everything New. And nothing is much newer, in the 1880s, than electricity.

Although humans have known about electricity in many of its natural forms for millennia (the word comes from the Greek word for amber; the Greeks’ first notice of static electricity was the sparks created by rubbing fur on amber), as Tom McNichol says in AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, before the nineteenth century, and especially before Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, “electricity remained branded in mystery, an eccentric, invisible force with powers that seemed to come from another world.”

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