A Trip To Scarborough

Alan Ayckbourn has only written one play set in his adopted home of Scarborough – and that is an adaptation of a play by another playwright!

Alan adapted R.B. Sheridan’s A Trip To Scarborough in 1982 – which is in itself of an adaptation of an earlier work. It premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round on 8 December 1982.

Here the playwright talks about the play and what led him to adapt the Sheridan’s play.

A Trip To Scarborough (extracts) by Alan Ayckbourn

A Trip To Scarborough has only been done professionally three times, to my knowledge, twice in Scarborough and once at Stoke-on-Trent at the Victoria Theatre.

Poster for the 2007 revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s A Trip To Scarborough (© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

I kept being told about it and eventually read a play of R.B. Sheridan’s called A Trip To Scarborough. People said ‘why don’t you do it? As it’s set in Scarborough.’ It turned out to be, I thought, an inferior version of Vanbrugh’s The Relapse. It’s sort of a simplified version of it with all the bad language taken out of it and with none of the raciness and the sex. I thought there’s no point doing that, you might as well just do The Relapse and have done with it. But then you lost A Trip To Scarborough, which was the whole point of doing it.

I used Sheridan’s play as a starting point, but I got very interested in the way it’s about the role of a hero and heroine in one sense. Tom Fashion in A Trip To Scarborough is a very lovable, ne’er do well sort of rogue and he’s a light and fun character; there’s very little angst or torment.

I also wanted to write, although I was much too young to remember much about it, something set around the period of World War Two, when heroism was still the premium… But the interest of the hero in that case was one knew people were going out every night and not coming back. In this case, the families waiting for their pilot husbands and fathers and the guys themselves, who kept losing friends; the fighter pilots and the bomber pilots. And it must have been bizarre, these men had to live for the day which explains why they’re nine glasses cut most of the time, they’d actually just sober up in time to get into the planes. And I then moved forward to what was the 1980s, to the sort of early Yuppiedom and the decline of the hero to these flashy, travelling salesmen, all in the same suit and also getting drunk. It occurred to me that from Tom Fashion to the 1980s, there is a hell of a journey.

What amused me was to weave the original story around the fabric of the two other stories. I used as a basis, just to link them really, the two mechanicals – Gander and Pestle – the hall porter and the young lad learning the job and completely new to it all.

It is a complex play and it is plot-bound: there’s a thriller plot within it – did he or did he not murder his wife in the 1940s section? That’s quite enough for one evening really! But then you’ve got Tom Fashion trying to usurp his brother’s marriage in order to claim the inheritance in the period section and then you have the two businessmen and their big scam with Sheridan’s script itself with Holly and this huge conspiracy in the present. So you’re actually asking the audience to process three plays at once. There are certain things you can do to help the audience, such as affecting the light changes to show you’re in 1800, 1942 or the present day; in 1942, there’s a very stark and war-time feel to the lighting, whereas there’s glamour and candlelight in the 1800s section. In the end, it’s all to do with the style of the play, the presentation of the characters and a certain amount of costume.

When I’m doing my own plays, there’s fun to be had, but it’s mainly to do with exploring the truth of each scene. It’s always the truth. This is very important and it’s something I say to every company I’ve ever worked with. Just trust the play, don’t try and make it funny because that is the death of it. The only way you will make this play – or any of my plays – work is if the audience believe it and they’ve got to keep hold of the line from one story to another. It’s not simply the case of weaving one delicate thread of narrative with this play. We’re jumping around in time, so it’s very important you keep the audience involved so when you go back and forth you still have their belief.

The other important thing, which is actually directorial, is the play never stops. It has to just go like that. It’s important to think of it as a continuous play, rather than a play with numerous different scenes, and that the first break is actually the interval. The rest of the time, people are ripping costumes off and pulling on others. It’s a hectic show, but a fun one and you really have to go for it. 

So that’s A Trip To Scarborough very briefly. It is complex and I think it’s also funny, but I suspect like all comedy the best way to approach it is deeply, deeply seriously.

For the full interview, visit Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website by clicking here.

Copyright of Haydonning Ltd, please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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