Authors: Alan Ayckbourn

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright, actor, and director

Author Works


The Square Cat, pr. 1959 (as Roland Allen)

Love After All, pr. 1959 (as Roland Allen)

Mr. Whatnot, pr. 1963 (revised version pr. 1964)

Relatively Speaking, pr. 1967 (originally as Meet My Father, pr. 1965)

Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations, pb. 1969 (for children)

How the Other Half Loves, pr. 1969

Time and Time Again, pr. 1971

Absurd Person Singular, pr. 1972

The Norman Conquests, pr. 1973 (includes Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden)

Absent Friends, pr. 1974

Confusions, pr. 1974 (five oneacts)

Bedroom Farce, pr. 1975

Just Between Ourselves, pr. 1976

Ten Times Table, pr. 1977

Joking Apart, pr. 1978

Men on Women on Men, pr. 1978 (lyrics; music by Paul Todd)

Sisterly Feelings, pr. 1979

Taking Steps, pr. 1979

Suburban Strains, pr. 1980 (music by Todd)

Season’s Greetings, pr. 1980

Way Upstream, pr. 1981

Me, Myself, and I, pr. 1981 (music by Todd)

Intimate Exchanges, pr. 1982

It Could Be Any One of Us, pr. 1983

A Chorus of Disapproval, pr. 1984

Woman in Mind, pr. 1985

A Small Family Business, pr., pb. 1987

Henceforward, pr. 1987

Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays, pr. 1988 (for children)

Man of the Moment, pr. 1988

Invisible Friends, pr. 1989

The Revengers’ Comedies, pr. 1989

Body Language, pr. 1990

My Very Own Story, pr. 1991 (for children)

Wildest Dreams, pr. 1991

Dreams from a Summer House, pr. 1992 (music by John Pattison)

Time of My Life, pr. 1992

Communicating Doors, pr. 1994

Haunting Julia, pr. 1994

The Musical Jigsaw Play, pr. 1994 (for children)

Plays, pb. 1995-1998 (2 volumes)

A Word from Our Sponsor, pr. 1995 (music by Pattison)

By Jeeves, pr. 1996 (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber)

The Champion of Paribanou, pr. 1996 (for children)

Things We Do for Love, pr. 1997

The Boy Who Fell into a Book, pr. 1998 (for children)

Comic Potential, pr. 1998

Gizmo, pr. 1998

“House” and “Garden,” pr., pb. 2000


A Chorus of Disapproval, 1989 (adaptation of his play)


Service Not Included, 1974


One of the most inventive dramatists of his day, Alan Ayckbourn (AYK-bawrn) has been compared to Neil Simon for his hilarious and prolific output of popular plays.{$I[AN]9810002038}{$I[A]Ayckbourn, Alan}{$S[A]Allen, Roland;Ayckbourn, Alan}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Ayckbourn, Alan}{$I[tim]1939;Ayckbourn, Alan}

Ayckbourn’s father, Horace, was a violinist for the London Symphony Orchestra; his mother, Irene, was a writer of romance fiction known by her pen name, Mary James. His parents divorced by the time he was four years old; when Ayckbourn was seven, his mother married a Sussex bank manager. There were no siblings, though he had a stepbrother who was several years younger. In an interview, he later said that his early life was not completely happy, elaborating that “the air was often blue, and things were sometimes flying across the kitchen.” Ayckbourn escaped some of his tempestuous home life when he began to attend boarding school at the age of seven, though he returned home on weekends. By the age of eleven, when he won a scholarship to a prestigious preparatory school, he was already writing plays for himself as an actor. While in school, he briefly toured Europe, Canada, and parts of the United States with a youth theater group.

In 1956, at the age of seventeen, Ayckbourn, having decided to become an actor, began to work in repertory theater. Of this time he once said that “I never, in all my years of acting, was ever unemployed.” During this period, he married Christine Roland, with whom he had two children.

Ayckbourn eventually found an artistic home with the Stephen Joseph Company in Scarborough. Joseph, the son of the well-known British actress Hermionie Gingold, had great respect for playwrights, and he encouraged Ayckbourn to write. One of Ayckbourn’s early experiences at that theater was playing a role for, and working closely with, Harold Pinter on The Birthday Party (1958). His brief relationship with Pinter influenced many of his views on the creation of character and dialogue. The fact that the Stephen Joseph Company performed many of its plays in-the-round, which was highly experimental at the time, helped to define Ayckbourn’s views of the importance of the relationship between actor and audience.

Ayckbourn’s first large-scale play, Mr. Whatnot, was produced in London in 1964. A play told partly in mime, it failed financially but marked the beginning of a long professional association between Ayckbourn and his agent, Margaret Ramsay.

Ignoring England’s West End as a venue for the opening of his plays, Ayckbourn remained loyal to the Stephen Joseph Company in Scarborough, choosing to write his plays to please audiences there rather than the more sophisticated London theatergoers. His plays, among them Relatively Speaking, How the Other Half Loves, and Absurd Person Singular, genre comedies dealing with the foibles and values of the English middle class, thus to some extent reflected the audiences in Scarborough, but they were enjoyed by audiences everywhere.

Ayckbourn’s style developed into an unusual combination of farce, quick-witted dialogue, and intricate–almost mathematically precise–plot devices. He became highly ingenious in discovering new and complicated ways to carry out the action of his plots. In How the Other Half Loves, for example, three couples play three simultaneous scenes on one set. At one point, all three couples are physically eating dinner at one table, though the characters are supposedly eating separate meals in separate homes.

Time and again, Ayckbourn took as his theme the pitfalls of marriage and combined that with his clever plotting. He has said that his plays often contain a “plumber in the cupboard. . . . While a couple tears their marriage apart, an innocent third party overhears it all and doesn’t know whether or not to come out.” In The Norman Conquests, a trilogy of three full-length plays, he achieved a balance between the bittersweet and the hilarious. Each of the plays takes place within exactly the same period of time, but each in a different room of a country house. When one character exits offstage, the offstage “scenes” can be seen in one of the other plays. Taken as a whole, and seen over three nights, the work gives a complete picture of a weekend in a British country house, complete with crumbling marriages and secret affairs.

Ayckbourn’s success on Broadway, in London, and around the world made him one of the wealthiest playwrights of his day. He regularly wrote one play a year, which gave him one of the largest repertoires of any playwright. Ayckbourn often investigates the pain of his characters’ mediocrity and the constraints placed on them by rigid British societal expectations. Though his characters fight bitterly and often feel great sadness, they do so amid some of the most intricately crafted and highly amusing plot devices ever constructed for the theater. In 1987, Ayckbourn was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), an honorary induction into a British order of knighthood.

BibliographyAllen, Paul. Alan Ayckbourn: Grinning at the Edge. New York: Continuum, 2002. A biography that looks at the playwright’s life and works. Based on more than twenty years of interviews with Ayckbourn and of his friends and acquaintainces. Photographs. Index.Billington, Michael. Alan Ayckbourn. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. A chronological analysis by a leading critic and scholar of Ayckbourn’s plays, from his earliest unpublished works to The Revengers’ Comedies.Dukore, Bernard. Alan Ayckbourn: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1992. A compilation of lively, analytical articles on Ayckbourn’s plays in terms of their stylistic and thematic characteristics, as well as their effectiveness onstage. Includes an interview with Ayckbourn, a complete chronology, and an extensive bibliography.Holt, Michael. Alan Ayckbourn. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1999. One of the British Council’s Writers and Their Works series, it is a sensible introduction. It contains a biography, bibliography, and commentary on the plays up to Things We Do for Love.Kalson, Albert E. Laughter in the Dark: the Plays of Alan Ayckbourn. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Press for Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993. The first chapter is biographical, then aspects of Ayckbourn’s theater are explored, including chapters on technique; men’s and women’s roles; and moral, social and political aspects. There is a separate chapter on Absent Friends. The best full study of the dramatist.Page, Malcolm. File on Ayckbourn. London: Methuen Drama, 1989. A compilation of biographical information, production and publication data, synopses and comments on each play, interview excerpts, and a bibliography.Watson, Ian. Conversations with Ayckbourn. Rev. ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1988. Unified into what seems to be an autobiography, Ayckbourn’s comments range over the achievements of his entire career. Includes useful play synopses and chronology.White, Sidney Howard. Alan Ayckbourn. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A chronological discussion of Ayckbourn’s plays, tracing the dramatist’s progress from farce to plays of character up to 1972. Includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.
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