Absurd Person Singular: Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes offers a glimpse at some rarely known facts regarding the writing of Alan Ayckbourn's plays with material drawn from the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York and the playwright's personal archive.
  • That the title of Absurd Person Singular has nothing to do with the actual play and was conceived independently of the play is well known. The precise origins of the title and its intended destination are less well-known and still quite vague. It now seems likely that the title of the play was conceived by Alan Ayckbourn whilst in an elevator en route to the office of the London producer, Michael Codron, in early 1971. Alan Ayckbourn has specifically cited this as his inspiration for the title several times. Without a play though, he filed away the title for later use. Less certain is what happened in the interim. On several occasions Alan Ayckbourn has spoken of another play which he was going to write using the same title - probably in late 1971 - but which did not materialise and, as a result of which, he used the title for his next play in 1972 - which was apparently altogether different to the previous idea. The main stumbling block here is absolutely nothing is known about the discarded play; the playwright himself has no memory of it, no notes survive in archive and it is not even known whether he began to write the piece. In all likelihood, this play would have had as little to do with the title as the actual play, but this 'missing' chapter in Absurd Person Singular remains intriguingly elusive.
  • The Borthwick Archive at the University Of York holds in the Ayckbourn Archive a hand-written document by the playwright which includes the earliest known designs for the set layout for the plays. These thumbnail sketches - reproduced below - show the layout of the Library Theatre stage for the three acts of the play. Note the two arrows on the top, these indicate the two stage-entrances to the Library Theatre (until 1976, all of Alan Ayckbourn's full-length plays only have two stage entrances to reflect this).

APS_sketch_01

  • When the play was originally performed at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in June 1972, the original performance ran at least half-hour longer than subsequent productions. Unhappy with the running time, Alan Ayckbourn judiciously cut the text the following day and made cuts to the production. Quite what was excised has never been ascertained as a typed rehearsal manuscript of the original production has not survived. However, the Borthwick Archive at the University of York holds a complete hand-written draft of the play in the Ayckbourn Archive. It is conceivable this is the script which best approximates the very first performance of the play. Unfortunately, due to the near illegibility of Alan Ayckbourn's hand-writing and the fact the script has never been made available until its transfer to the archive in 2011, there has - as yet - been no attempt to produce a manuscript from this version to compare with the actual play.
  • Absurd Person Singular is a three act play of which there are only two in the Ayckbourn canon (Surprises being the second). However, several early plays such as Family Circles and Season's Greetings were initially produced as three act plays, but were then later altered to two acts by the playwright.
  • The Broadway production of Absurd Person Singular is notorious for the fact that the producers made it clear they believed Acts II and III should be swapped to end the evening on a comedy high rather than a dying fall. This has been well-documented, however, in a single interview in the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette published in May 1976, Alan Ayckbourn went further saying he was made an extraordinary offer to persuade him to alter the play: "An American producer offered me 250,000 dollars to alter the order of the acts in Absurd Person Singular. I said no. He said: 'think of the money.' I said I did not need the money and the answer was still no."
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. The sketch is copyright of Alan Ayckbourn and held in the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York and should not be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.