Favourite Things: Time & Time Again

Alan Ayckbourn’s Time & Time Again premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1971 and has proved to be a long-standing favourite play in the Ayckbourn canon.

It’s a play notable for a number of significant reasons: it’s arguably the first of Alan’s tragic-comedies – a genre which will define much of his most important early writing; it was the first of his own productions to feature Christopher Godwin, an actor who will create some of the most defining Ayckbourn roles; it was the first of his plays to be produced in the West End by Michael Codron which initiated a relationship both with the director Eric Thompson and actor Tom Courtenay. It’s also the first of Alan’s plays to have a water feature – which leaked into Scarborough Library’s reading room one night – and one of the few plays in the British play canon to substantially feature a game of cricket!

Within The Alan Ayckbourn Archive, it’s also notable as being the first play for which original notes exist written by the playwright; unfortunately, none of Alan Ayckbourn’s working notes or hand-written first-drafts survive prior to 1971. The surviving and extensive notes – ranging from 1971 to 1984 – held in the Borthwick Institute at the University of York offer an extraordinary glimpse into the playwright’s mind and working practises.

Alan Ayckbourn’s notes for the title of Time & Time Again
(© Haydonning Ltd)

An example of this can be seen here with Alan’s hand-written pencil notes – the majority of the notes are in pencil on foolscap paper – which highlight several of Alan’s early ideas for the original title of the play. We have The Game’s The Thing, Plays & Players, The Sporting Gnome and The Garden Pact – all of which, to some extent, reflect the play we know today. Intriguingly Alan – particularly between the 1960s and 1980s – tended to pick quite generic, non-specific names for his plays given he had to provide titles for publicity well in advance of writing the play. Yet here we have titles fairly specific to the actual play, despite the actual title being as nebulous as How The Other Half Loves, Relatively Speaking and Absurd Person Singular – to name but a few titles which have little if anything to do with the actual play.

Roger Kemp, Eve Shickle, Christopher Godwin, Gil Osborne & Tim Meats in a publicity shot for Time & Time Again
(© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

Another feature of Alan’s early plays – during the 1960s and early 1970s – is the frequency with which publicity shots or prop photos were actually taken on the roof of Scarborough’s public library, where the Library Theatre was based. In this case, we have a publicity photo of Leonard (Christopher Godwin in the centre) and the family at the funeral from which they all return at the start of the play. Fortunately, the backdrop of the church which once stood next to the library (and which is now an Iceland store) is credible despite the fact the photo is taken two storeys up! There are a number of photos in the Archive on the roof of the library which was obviously a convenient location to nip up to for a photograph!

The flyer for the West End premiere of Time & Time Again at the Comedy Theatre in 1972 (held in The Ayckbourn Archive).

As mentioned above, Time & Time Again‘s transfer to the West End was a significant one. The play was produced by Michael Codron, beginning a relationship which would see Michael produce the vast majority of Alan’s West End premieres between 1971 and 2001. He also introduced Alan to the director Eric Thompson, who would direct the West End premieres of Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests among others. Tom Courtenay, who played Leonard to great acclaim, would go on to play Norman in the hugely popular West End run of The Norman Conquests. All are featured in this flyer for the West End premiere of Time & Time Again at the Comedy Theatre during 1972. Prior to Time & Time Again, the West End promotional material for Alan’s plays is largely uninspiring and exceptionally generic – largely concentrating on the star name in the play. The flyer here is, in my opinion, the first genuinely interesting and eye-catching flyer for an Ayckbourn play in the West End and the image of Leonard with Bernard the gnome has been replicated frequently since.

The winning gnome which would ‘allegedly’ feature in the 1986 revival of Time & Time Again at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round (© Scarborough Evening News)

Talking of Bernard the Gnome – arguably the true star of Time & Time Again… – he was centre-stage in a bizarre marketing campaign for Alan Ayckbourn’s revival of the play in 1986 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round. At the time, the theatre was ‘blessed’ with the talents of the publicity officer Russ Allen, who was renowned for his unique approach to gaining publicity for the theatre. Amongst his many eye-catching stunts was an audition for a gnome to ‘star’ in the play. The article from the Scarborough Evening News shows the winning gnome which was apparently to feature in the production. Alas, it does appear this was nothing but a publicity stunt as – judging from production photographs – not only did the cheeky gnome definitely not have the starring role of Bernard, but was either very well hidden or not utilised at all. Russ Allen’s tenure at the theatre ended after a very public – and one might argue – rather infantile spat with the theatre manager Ian Watson which spilled over into the pages of The Stage and even Private Eye.

To this day, there is a tale told within the theatre that Russ Allen was responsible for throwing out the majority of the theatre’s archive at the time to make more room in his office. As might be imagined – if this was the case – I’m not the biggest fan given my role as Archivist at the SJT!

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