House & Garden: 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.
  • Although Alan Ayckbourn wrote House & Garden in 1999, he actually had the idea for two plays being performed simultaneously in the early 1970s - predating The Norman Conquests. In an interview in 1975, Alan Ayckbourn recalls being asked twice on the same day in 1972 if he would write plays for the recently opened Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Realising the theatre had two auditoria, he postulated he could have two plays running simultaneously with the same cast. In an interview from the previous year, the same story is recalled by the director Eric Thompson, who believed that Alan adapted this idea for Scarborough as one of the inspirations for The Norman Conquests.
  • House & Garden was written to celebrate Alan Ayckbourn's 60th birthday and he genuinely believed it was almost a site-specific piece that would not be picked up for performance by any other theatres. This proved almost immediately wrong when the National Theatre's Artistic Director Trevor Nunn came up to Scarborough - and reportedly had much fun playing the 'human fruit machine' in the foyer fête after the plays - and asked Alan if he would consider taking the plays to the National.
  • The name of Gavin Ring-Mayne is apparently a subtle reference to Alan Ayckbourn's career as a radio producer for the BBC from 1965 to 1970. As Paul Allen noted in an article for the National Theatre's programme, the Ring-Main was an internal broadcasting device linked to every office at the BBC through which announcements would be made.
  • When the play transferred to the National Theatre, Alan realised there was a considerable distance between the two auditoria (far more so than the two auditoria at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, where the plays had been originally produced). To address the possibility that an actor might be delayed in moving from one auditoria to the next, he created the 'Emergency Dog'. Barking from Spoof, Teddy’s dog, would be played if an actor was late to the stage, this would indicate there was a problem and allow a character on stage to deliver some additional dialogue to cover the other actor’s entrance. Fortunately, the Emergency Dog was never utilised in the National Theatre production.
  • Aptly, given it was a play celebrating Alan Ayckbourn's 60th birthday, House & Garden makes overt and subtle references to a whole host of previous Ayckbourn plays. Obvious references include Just Between Ourselves, Woman In Mind and Intimate Exchanges. However, there is one very obscure reference to his withdrawn fifth play Christmas V Mastermind (1962) during the fancy dress parade in Garden. The boy dressed as a letter-box reflects a similar disguise used by two policeman in the earlier play.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.