Today marks the birthday of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Mr Whatnot, which premiered on 12 November 1963.
It’s a significant play in the Ayckbourn play canon – although you’d be hard pressed to find much written about it as it tends to live in the shadow of his subsequent play, Relatively Speaking.
Yet without Mr Whatnot, it’s hard to argue Relatively Speaking would have been written. Mr Whatnot was, infamously, Alan’s first West End transfer and it was a disaster. The aftermath of which led Alan to almost leave the theatre entirely and a challenge by his mentor, Stephen Joseph, to write a ‘well-made play.’ The result of that challenge was Relatively Speaking. And the rest is, well, history.
But Mr Whatnot is also the first play where Alan’s unique voice as a playwright can be heard, it’s an exceptionally inventive and challenging play – particularly for a writer at just 24 years old – and is, inarguably, the first of his plays which one can say only he could have written this.
It is also the earliest of his plays to have been published and which is also available to perform. It marks the point at which Alan Ayckbourn is comfortable with what he was writing and was willing to give it a wider airing.
You can find out more about this fascinating play at the Ayckbourn YouTube Channel with the SpotLight on Ayckbourn: Mr Whatnot video and there are pages of information on the play including articles by and interviews with the playwright at his official website by clicking here.