After a six-month recovery period following a stroke in February (See News, 11 Mar 2006), prolific playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn will return to Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre this September to resume his role as artistic director. His first production will be the world premiere of his own 70th play, If I Were You.

The 67-year-old Ayckbourn wrote If I Were You prior to suffering his stroke. The play, which will run from 12 October to 11 November 2006, explores the lives of a couple, Mal and Jill, and their secret concerns hidden away from one other. But relief is at hand; a solution that will change not just their views of each other but their lives forever. The cast includes Liza Goddard, John Branwell, Andrew Brooke, Saskia Butler and David Hartley.

During Ayckbourn’s absence, his sequence of eight plays, Intimate Exchanges has been running at the SJT, with Tim Luscombe stepping in at short notice to direct the first six after Ayckbourn’s stroke. In early 2007, Ayckbourn will direct the final two to complete the octet.

Ayckbourn was encouraged to write by theatrical pioneer Stephen Joseph and, since 1971, has been the artistic director of the theatre, now called the Stephen Joseph Theatre, that his mentor founded in Scarborough in 1955. As part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season last year (See News, 29 Apr 2005), Ayckbourn premiered his 69th play, Improbable Fiction, a typically Ayckbournesque comedy set in a writers’ circle.

One of the most prolific playwrights in British history, Ayckbourn has premiered almost all of his plays in Scarborough, though they don't usually stay there. Since his first hit, Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York's in London in 1967, more than 25 of Ayckbourn's plays have subsequently been produced in the West End, at the National or the RSC. These include Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, and more recently, Things We Do for Love, House and Garden, and the Olivier Award-winning Comic Potential.

Ayckbourn's plays have been translated into 30 languages, been performed on stage and television around the world, and received numerous awards. He has also written many plays for children, including 1998's The Boy Who Fell into a Book. In 1997, he became the first playwright since Terence Rattigan to be knighted by the Queen.

Meanwhile, another of the UK’s prominent directors, Max Stafford-Clark (pictured), founder and artistic director of renowned new writing touring company Out of Joint, is now in north London’s Whittington hospital after suffering a stroke on Wednesday 19 July 2006.

A spokesperson from Out of Joint told the 65-year-old Stafford-Clark has been fitted with a pacemaker, is recovering slowly and is expected to make a full recovery. It is hoped that he’ll return to work in late autumn.

Out of Joint’s current production, Stafford-Clark’s premiere production of JT Rogers’ Rwanda-set drama The Overwhelming, continues in rep at the National’s Cottesloe until 30 August 2006. It then embarks on a regional tour, until 7 October 2006, which will now be overseen by assistant directors Naomi Jones and Jessica Swale.

The next planned Out of Joint project is the world premiere of King of Hearts, a new comedy about the royal family written by Alistair Beaton, author of Feelgood (directed by Stafford-Clark at Hampstead Theatre prior to a West End transfer) and TV’s David Bluckett satire A Very Social Secretary. It’s co-produced with Hampstead Theatre, where it’s due to open in early 2007.

Prior to Out of Joint, Max Stafford-Clark was the longest-serving artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. During his reign, from 1980 to 1992, he successfully saved the Sloane Square landmark from a campaign to withdraw arts funding and presented new work from playwrights including: Brian Friel (Faith Healer), Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, Serious Money), Terry Johnson (Insignificance), Michael Hastings (Tom and Viv), Ron Hutchinson (Rat in the Skull), David Mamet (Edmond, Wallace Shawn (Aunt Dan and Lemon), Timberlake Wertenbaker (Our Country’s Good), Alan Bennett (Kafka’s Dick) and Jim Cartwright (Road).

Stafford-Clark kicked off this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Court with his Out of Joint co-production of O Go My Man, a new play by Stella Feehily. Other notable productions since founding Out of Joint in 1993 have included Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking, Sebastian Barry’s Our Lady of Sligo, David Hare’s The Permanent Way and Robin SoansTalking to Terrorists.

- by Terri Paddock