Communicating Doors

On 2 February 1994, Alan Ayckbourn unveiled his latest play Communicating Doors at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough.

It was a play written at the last possible minute as the piece he has previously planned to write had fallen through and even Alan was not sure whether the replacement play would find an audience.

As it turned out, it became one of the most successful Ayckbourn plays of the period, transferring successfully to the West End and going onto to become the first Ayckbourn play to win a prestigious Molière award.

To mark the anniversary of the play’s debut, we’re reproducing an article by Alan Ayckbourn about the creation of the play written for his own revival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre during 2010.

Communicating Doors by Alan Ayckbourn

Communicating Doors was one of the earlier plays when, encouraged by my first experiences in writing my Christmas ‘family’ pieces which generally tended to be set in fantastic and undreamt of worlds, in my adult work I stepped cautiously outside the four walls of the real house or the actual garden fence. Into the realms of heaven-knows-where … 

In writing for a younger audience (and the best of them do this from Brothers Grimm to JK Rowling or Philip Pullman) as we grow older and consequently further away from that very age with which we wish as writers to engage, we tend to create our own presumed reality. 

Posters for Communicating Doors (l to r): world premiere (1994), West End premiere (1995), New York premiere (1998)

That is, new worlds in which we are all in a sense initially strangers. Worlds which, if we agree to enter them, we also automatically choose to accept their unfamiliar local rules and the abnormal laws that govern them. 

Which, provided that these are not too outrageously hard to swallow, that they still bear some relationship, however distantly, to the known world and that, most importantly, things remain logical in themselves, however illogical, people are generally happy to go along with them. Especially when they’re still young with a sense of play and even though they’re guiltily secretly telling themselves they’re old enough to know better. 

But, as the old cliché has it, there’s a child in all of us somewhere, however deeply buried which explains all the fun, the joy, the love along with a lot of the jealousy, the spite and cruelty and a large proportion of the wars.

Laura Doddington & Ben Porter in Alan Ayckbourn’s 2010 revival of Communicating Doors (© Tony Bartholomew / www.bartpics.co.uk)

The genre for this form of writing used to be referred to as Science Fiction though sadly that’s become a little unfashionable as a description and is now generally replaced these days by Fantasy or Speculative Fiction which sounds slightly loftier and smacks less of little green monsters or sounds of magnetic boots clanking on the hulls of distant spaceships.

In the early days, I was brought up against a post-war background of sci-fi films and magazines where some of the best, most imaginative, most exciting contemporary writing was to be found. Writers like Bradbury, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K Dick, Heinlein, Aldiss and Ballard were an essential part of my boarding school, under-the-bedclothes reading. 

‘What if…?’ was the question their stories generally asked. Along with ‘Just supposing …’

Communicating Doors comes into the ‘what if …’ category. What if, it asks, we could start our lives again? Would we choose to change them? And if so how? 

In this play, unlike the rest of us, the heroine, Phoebe (Poopay) actually gets this opportunity, all due to some mystical gizmo to do with interconnecting hotel doors. (Don’t even ask, I’ve no idea, myself). My tip though when dealing with Science Fiction is if you don’t want people dropping asleep in Act I never ever try to explain inexplicable Science, stick to the Fiction. Leave all the rest to Hawking. He’ll probably be able to explain it, even if the rest of us still don’t understand.

Laura Doddington & Kim Wall in Alan Ayckbourn’s 2020 revival of Communicating Doors (© Tony Bartholomew / www.bartpics.co.uk)

But in this instance I threw a few more ingredients into this pot as well as “what if …” I included elements of my other big childhood love, elements of 1940’s / 1950’s black and white film noir. So there’s also the chance to play spot the reference. No prizes.

Communicating Doors also contains my other strongly held belief that your own good fortune often resides in the people you meet on the way. It’s good luck to have met them; it’s good sense knowing the ones to listen to.

It’s not, of course, all one way. For every person who’s affected me, my faint hope is there’s been someone for whom I’ve been an influence. I guess that some of them may have been listening, you live in hope.

Alan Ayckbourn (2010)

You can find out more about the play Communicating Doors at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website here.

Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Images copyright of Tony Bartholomew (except poster). Please do not reproduce this article or images without the permission of the respective copyright holder.

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