We’re moving onto one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most loved and produced plays in this week’s Favourite Things column, Bedroom Farce.
Bedroom Farce premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1975 before – famously – transferring to the recently completed National Theatre on the South Bank, London. It was the first play to be staged in the Lyttelton Theatre and is regarded as the NT’s first bona-fide hit in its new home. The NT production was so successful it transferred to the West End and Broadway as well as being adapted for television. Since then, Bedroom Farce has become one of the most revived and popular of Alan’s plays.
But for the blog and favourite item in the Ayckbourn Archive, we’re heading back to the very earliest days of the play when it was nothing but a concept in Alan Ayckbourn’s mind.
Alan famously began writing Bedroom Farce during the debacle of the West End opening of his and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s flop musical, Jeeves. The musical closed just four weeks after opening in the West End. And whilst it must not have been a pleasant experience for all concerned, as so often in his career Alan Ayckbourn had already moved on and was looking forwards not backwards. He recalls of the final night of Jeeves: “I remember going in to see the cast on the last night and not feeling too bad about it as I had just finished Bedroom Farce that day.” I’m not sure the cast would necessarily have been cheered by that thought!
The earliest idea for Bedroom Farce in existence is actually found on the back of a page of a Jeeves script held in archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York University, which holds the Ayckbourn Archive. This shows a cruciform shape which illustrated Alan’s initial idea for the stage-layout of the stage for Bedroom Farce. He would later flesh this out slightly with the sketch below – again also held in the Borthwick Archives. This clearly shows a version of Bedroom Farce quite unlike what he would go on to write.
As can be seen, there are four beds / bedrooms for the four couples as opposed to the three bedrooms of the final play. It also illustrates the play was conceived with in-the-round in mind. Not that this is a surprise, of course, as the vast majority of Alan’s plays are conceived for in-the-round staging, but Bedroom Farce was commissioned by the National Theatre and Alan knew that it would have to be able to transfer from the in-the-round staging of the Library Theatre in Scarborough to the end-stage of the National Theatre, hence it is such a surprise to see a design which is so obviously round-focussed.
Early notes for the play also feature different character names. Whilst Ernest & Delia and Susannah & Trevor are all present from the beginning. Jan & Nick were originally known as Patsy & Glyn with Kate & Malcom being Mavis & Austin. This idea for four bedrooms quickly changed as Alan realised there was more dramatic potential in having a number of bedrooms which did not match the number of couples. As a result, every bedroom was always going to have more than its intended inhabitants in it and the action had a reason to move from one bedroom to the next.
The play was originally intended to be performed in-the-round at the Library Theatre and Alan designed the staging for this as can be seen from his drawing below.
This is clearly quite a neat in-the-round design with all three bedrooms present and facing each other – a variation on the original cruciform design. Unfortunately, legend has it that Alan had not measured the beds precisely enough and when they were delivered into the Concert Room where the Library Theatre was based, they were too large and did not fit the space! As a result, Alan was forced to alter the set-design and the production became three-sided rather than in-the-round! It would not be until 1999 that Alan was able to direct an in-the-round production of the play when he revived it at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Both these drawings by Alan are pieces I feel are wonderful and offer a huge amount of insight into Alan’s thought-processes when creating a play. From his initial idea to his set-plans – he has hand-sketched his ideas for set layouts consistently throughout his career. They offer a glimpse at two very different possibilities for Bedroom Farce before he arrived at the play which came to be known and loved.