Creating Time & Time Again

Although not as famous as the plays which immediately followed it, Alan Ayckbourn’s Time & Time Again is a crucial play in his development as a writer.

Premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 8 July 1971, it is regarded as the first of his tragi-comics work epitomised so successfully by his next play, Absurd Person Singular.

It is also the first play to feature what was later dubbed the ‘Ayckbourn man’ and in its lead character, Leonard, Time & Time Again laid the foundation for a whole host of classic Ayckbourn characters such as Norman in The Norman Conquests, Colin in Absent Friends, Dennis in Just Between Ourselves and many more.

Here Alan Ayckbourn talks about creating Time & Time Again.

Creating Time & Time Again by Alan Ayckbourn

I wrote Time & Time Again in 1971. It came immediately before Absurd Person Singular and immediately after a manic piece of theatre that never got anywhere called Family Circles.

Time & TIme Again – detail from West End premiere poster

I principally remember Time & Time Again as the play in which I used water for the first time onstage. It wasn’t, of course, the last.

It was first produced in Scarborough when the in-the-round company were still based at the Library Theatre in amongst the outsize books on the first floor. During the night, after a very happy opening performance, our modest pond leaked slowly through the stage into the Reading Room below, fusing the lights and wrecking the latest copies of Gardeners’ Weekly and Bellringers’ World.

It was also memorable because a well-meaning, hygienically minded stage manager, to prevent a typhoid or malaria epidemic breaking out during the action, added a none too mild solution of disinfectant to the murky water causing Leonard and Joan to leap from the pond like demented dolphins one evening.

I always think of the piece as a love story, though admittedly with a protagonist like Leonard, it’s rather an untypical one. And for me, who spends a great deal of time tinkering with the shape and traditional form of comedy, it is really quite a straightforward play.

It was the play, some people observed, when the so-called ‘darker’ side of my writing started to emerge. Personally, I prefer to regard it as the play when I first began to attend to people as well as plot.

It’s also a play that up-ends one of the golden rules of play-writing. Deliberately. The principle unconventional ingredient is the character of Leonard. It’s usual in comedy to construct a central figure who through his actions drives along the story to some sort of conclusion. Leonard does the same but through total inertia. We have at the centre a hero with no purpose or willpower whatsoever. A floating, non-voting cross bencher of a man to whom things just sort of happen.

Despite his appalling behaviour I have a special affection for him. Anyone who can escape the distress of the rat race and yet avoid the discomfort of dropping out deserves a certain amount of admiration.

You can find out more about Alan Ayckbourn’s Time & Time Again at his official website by clicking here.

Article by Alan Ayckbourn and edited by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright of Haydonning Ltd, please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holders.

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