Haunted!

With Halloween arriving tomorrow, we’ve got some facts about the ghosts and ghouls which can be found in Alan Ayckbourn’s plays…

Be afraid. Be slightly afraid…

Thrills And Chills by Simon Murgatroyd

1) Alan’s first ghostly creation was ‘Enry Albert Murgatroyd – no relation – an unfortunate groom who collapsed carrying his ample bride over the threshold. His subsequent haunts feature in the song The Ghost Of ‘Enry Albert, part of the revue What The Devil! first performed in 1975.

A terrifying apparition in the original performance of The Ghost of ‘Enry Albert (© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

2) The first Ayckbourn play to feature a ghost was Taking Steps (1990). The house in which the play is set, The Pines, is apparently haunted by Scarlet Lucy. Legend has it she was a prostitute run through by a sword-stick who extracts her revenge by sleeping with eligible men in the house, leaving them dead in the morning. Naïve lawyer Tristram is left fearing for his life when someone visits his bed in the night; fortunately – or perhaps not – it is the wife of the house’s owner, rather than Lucy who visits him.

3) In Communicating Doors (1994), one of the characters deliberately disguises herself as a ghost in a nod to the film Pyscho. The homicidal Julian’s long-dead mother appears to him causing the murderer to fall to his death in this time-travelling thriller.

4) Alan Ayckbourn considers he has written three ‘supernatural’ plays: Haunting Julia, Snake In The Grass and Life & Beth. All feature ghosts, but who is haunting who is not quite so clear.

The poster for the world premiere of Haunting Julia (© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

5)  Alan has frequently said one of his inspirations for Snake In The Grass (2002) was the classic movie, Les Diaboliques. Alan’s aim is to evoke the atmosphere of Clouzot’s film where a murdered husband apparently haunts his wife and his mistress.

6) Alan’s adopted home-town is Scarborough, a stone’s throw from Whitby where one of the most famous horror creations of all time is partly set, Dracula by Bram Stoker. Alan has also tackled the infamous vampire in a comedy sketch entitled Dracula, which was part of the 1975 What The Devil! revue. It featured Stephen Mallatratt as the vampire and Malcolm Hebden (Coronation Street’s Norris) as the vampire’s monosyllabic servant Squelch.

7) Although Alan Ayckbourn’s Dracula has rarely been seen, he essentially rewrote it under the title Horror Story as one of the interactive plays within The Karaoke Theatre Company – although Dracula had been altered to a lisping vampiric seductress.

Louise Shuttleworth as a vampiric seductress in The Karaoke Theatre Company (©Tony Bartholomew / www.bartpics.co.uk)

8) There’s also a ghost apparently haunting The Novelist, one of the five one act plays which comprise Roundelay. A novelist with a dark secret appears to be haunted by her late mother, but is she just imaging it all or is something really out there?

9)  In the one-act play, A Cut In The Rates (1984), a rates collector is confronted by an undead woman sawn in half by her magician husband. Scared witless by her ghostly encounter and the saw-wielding magician, she flees from what is actually an elaborate tax-avoidance scam!

An ‘undead’ magician’s assistant makes her return in A Cut in the Rates (© Haydonning Ltd)

10)  One of Alan’s inspirations for Haunting Julia (1994) is often quoted as The Woman In Black. This long-running West End play was adapted from the novella of Scarborough born author Susan Hill and had its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1987.

And finally –  Haunting Julia is intended to be a play which runs without an interval. However, when the playwright revived it in 1999 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, it was insisted there had to be an interval as bar takings had fallen due to the lack of interval in the original 1994 production. Clearly the spirits had to be appeased… (I know, that’a terrible pun, I’ll stop writing now. Enjoy your Halloween).

Haunting Julia is being presented this Christmas by the Stephen Joseph Theatre as an audio play directed and performed by Alan Ayckbourn. You can find out more about this exciting production, streaming from 1 December – 5 January, at the SJT website here.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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