Drowning On Dry Land

On 4 May 2004, Alan Ayckbourn dived into the world of celebrity culture with the world premiere of his play Drowning On Dry Land at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

The play, 17 years on, is as pertinent as ever with celebrity culture even more pervasive than the early 2000s and the extraordinary proliferation of these ‘celebrities’ with no discernible talents other than the ability to attract audiences.

To mark the day, this is a reproduction of an article written by Alan Ayckbourn about the inspiration behind the plays.

Drowning On Dry Land by Alan Ayckbourn

Drowning on Dry Land is concerned with celebrity and specifically our current fascination with the recent phenomenon, celebrity culture. It’s filled, frankly, with a lot of not very nice people. Uncle Val [from the play Sugar Daddies] would be quite at home in the world they inhabit. Yet at the centre exists a true innocent, Charlie, the super celebrity or rather the super non-celebrity whose greatest achievement is in having achieved nothing at all.

He is summed up by another character, Marsha, his devoted fan, who explains her attachment to him and what he means to her: ‘I think you’re wonderful. You changed my life. I used to think I was nothing. Then I saw you and I thought, no. You don’t have to be anything to be something.’

Perhaps the conclusion of the play lies less in deploring the way those with nothing to offer can become so celebrated – deplorable enough – than in its becoming accepted that anyone can do it without effort or ability. In the early stages of writing, I watched mystified on television one evening a young woman leaping about aimlessly in a field, waving her arms and yelling. An advertisement for what, I wondered? After a moment or so, she calmed down, stared at the camera and called out, ‘Am I famous yet?’ Quite so.

The play also reflects the converse, i.e. that the faster you rise in that hothouse world of little or no substance, the faster you are likely to fall. And almost certainly will fall.

In Charlie, I created the ultimate ‘non-celebrity’ one of life’s all time losers who through charm and a certain personal charisma manages to achieve fame and fortune without ever having done or achieved anything. In the end all he accomplishes, poor man, is climbing the stairs to nowhere, which more or less sums up his life.

I originally considered calling the play Am I Famous Yet?, but browsing through one of my dictionaries of quotations (always a good source of titles if you’re stuck for one, as Shakespeare discovered) I came across an old English proverb: ‘It is folly to drown on dry land.’ Heaven knows how old or how English it is, but I liked it, especially since I had chosen to set the play in a folly. Not that there’s anything symbolic in that, of course. Heaven forbid.

Drowning On Dry Land poster (© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

To find out more about Drowning on Dry Land, visit Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website here.

Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd, please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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