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Alan Ayckbourn: “The Straight Play Is Doomed”???

Alan Ayckbourn, the UK’s most prolific playwright, may be slowing down, but he certainly isn’t shutting up – not judging by an interview this week with The Times, in which he predicted the death of the straight play and dismissed devised work as “rubbish”. At the end of the year, after 36 years in the job, Ayckbourn steps down as artistic director of Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he’s premiered most of his 70-plus plays.

Despite his own longevity and extraordinary output, Ayckbourn told The Times: “I know I sound blimpish, but I do feel the straight play is a doomed species. And what I get really angry about is the terrible starvation of the theatre out of London. You can see it in insidious ways. The death of regional work is very serious. You pick up the programme of the average rep company and you find no individual voice - it\'s all co-productions with other theatres. Or it\'s \'devised\' work, and most of that is rubbish.”

After suffering from a stroke two years ago, Ayckbourn has cut back on his commitments and finally let go of the SJT, but he isn’t retiring completely – he’ll continue to write and direct his own plays. His SJT successor Chris Monks has already commissioned a new Ayckbourn for 2009. Before that, as part of his farewell season in Scarborough, Ayckbourn premieres Life and Beth this week and, over Christmas, the musical fantasy Awaking Beauty (his 71st and 72nd).

Transfers for most of Ayckbourn’s plays were once a given, but the dramatist imposed a five-year West End moratorium on his plays after dissatisfaction with how a 2002 season for his Damsels in Distress trilogy was handled. Since the moratorium was lifted last year, his 1972 comedy Absurd Person Singular has been revived at the Garrick and, this autumn, the Old Vic is reviving his Norman Conquests trilogy (See News, 20 May 2008).


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