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Alan Ayckbourn on the Writing of Bedroom Farce

Early in 1975, I collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on one of the great musical disasters of the decade, the earlier Mark 1 version of Jeeves. Recoiling from the scathing, occasional downright gleeful criticism we justly deserved, I consoled myself by setting about writing my obligatory yearly Scarborough summer play [where Ayckbourn served as artistic director in Scarborough, England]. In the time honored tradition, I announced the title long before a word was written. The play was thrust into the actors’ hands at the first read through, having been finished the night before and unread ‘til then by any of them.

Slightly less traditionally though, on this occasion the title actually bore some resemblance to the play I was to write. I’d decided to call it Bedroom Farce.

I am often asked where I get my ideas from, as if somewhere I have this large box secretly buried to which I cautiously return every year under cover of darkness. I sometimes wish I had. In fact, play ideas usually come from various sources and numerous quite random directions. Some arrive mere fragments but then hopefully combine with other fragments to create some sort of whole. These are a few of them…

Someone jokingly remarked after The Norman Conquests that there were very few rooms left in the house for me to visit — except the bedroom and the bathroom. (The bathroom came later in A Small Family Business). I stored the idea of a bedroom away for later. Though even at that juncture, it crossed my mind that if I did write a bedroom play it might be more interesting and unusual to avoid those more predictable elements of bedroom behavior, namely sexual activity and sleeping.

A year or so earlier, Sheila Hancock had invited Peter Hall to see Absurd Person Singular in which she was appearing at the Criterion Theatre. Peter subsequently wrote to me suggesting I do something for the new National Theatre which was shortly to open. I took a trip round its South Bank site, in particular to view the shell of the incomplete Lyttelton Theatre. My first impression was that it was less a theatre, more a football stadium. I had never written for such a vast stage. Overall the acting area was probably some ten times the size of the in-the-round arena I was used to. I decided the only way to tackle such a space would be to divide it. A multiple location set was called for; not one bedroom, then, but several.

During one long Scarborough season, in the days when the company all tended to live together in one rented boarding house, I had got into one of those post-show, late night conversations with a troubled actor busily recounting the recent failure of some personal relationship. His wife? His lover? His mother? I forget. At around 2am, when everyone else had retired, I also made my excuses but the unfortunate man was too far gone — a mixture of tiredness, emotional trauma, and alcohol — to take the hint. Eventually, abandoning politeness, I left and went upstairs to my bedroom where my wife was already in bed. Oblivious, the actor followed me and, uninvited, sat on my bed still in full flow. As he droned on, I undressed and joined my wife in bed. Finally lights were switched off and she and I eventually fell asleep, lulled by the reassuring drone of his voice. In the morning we discovered him curled up at the foot of our bed like some large dog. One that I was later to name Trevor.

To all this you should add my firm belief in the power of number three, the source of much good comedy (do it once, they‘ll look up, do it twice, you‘ll have their attention, do it a third time and they‘re ready to laugh) and Bedroom Farce was all but written. Three beds, three bedrooms, three couples, and a fourth couple straight from their wildest nightmares.

 

This article was originally written for the playbill of the 2000 revival of Bedroom Farce at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.


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