Ayckbourn Scorns Starstruck West End ProducersDate: 25 October 2002
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn - still smarting from the scheduling downgrade of his "Damsels in Distress" trilogy, currently playing at the Duchess Theatre - has made headlines this morning for harshly criticising the London celebrity casting trend and threatening to boycott the commercial West End for good.
In a year that has seen one of the highest counts ever of Hollywood stars treading the board in the West End - including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Kyle MacLachlan and Glenn Close - Ayckbourn has damned the theatrical presence of such famous imported faces.
"These celebrities can't do it," he said, speaking at a lecture this week at the West End's Apollo Theatre. "They get ill or lose their voices after 20 minutes and you're left with the understudy. At least it is a proper understudy."
Ayckbourn reserved his harshest criticism for Madonna and her performance in this summer's sold out - but generally poorly reviewed - production of David Williamson's Up for Grabs. The star, he said, was inaudible and would have made more impact as a silent work of art. "You might as well have put her on a stage eating a plate of spaghetti and put a rope around her chair - instead of in a theatre where she wasn't at home and was struggling."
The playwright and director's "Damsels in Distress" trilogy - comprising FlatSpin, GamePlan and RolePlay, the prolific Ayckbourn's 58th, 59th and 60th plays - features a seven-strong cast of largely unknown actors from Scarborough, where the piece premiered last summer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where Ayckbourn is artistic director.
Following two regional tours, the trilogy opened at the West End's Duchess Theatre on 7 September 2002 (previews from 4 September). Later that same month, the West End producers decided to fundamentally change the schedule, presenting RolePlay (the most favourably reviewed of the three) alone on a daily basis, with FlatSpin and GamePlan shown only once a week, as matinees, on trilogy Saturdays (See News, 26 Sep 02). Ayckbourn said that the decision meant that those two plays had effectively been "condemned to the dustbin".
Because of his disillusionment with producers who were seemingly unwilling to put on "proper plays with proper actors", Ayckbourn said he may never work in the commercial West End again, limiting productions of his many hit comedies to regional, fringe and subsidised theatres. "If all we are looking for these days is one-shot plays with one big name in it, I don't want to be part of it," he said.
- by Terri Paddock