Essential Images: How The Other Half Loves

Essential Images is a regular feature on the Official Alan Ayckbourn Blog in which the playwright’s Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, chooses a significant image from the Ayckbourn Archive relating to the plays.

This week, the image relates to his ninth play, How The Other Half Loves, which opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 31 July 1969 and became one of the playwright’s most popular and performed works.

Essential Images: How The Other Half Loves by Simon Murgatroyd

In 1969, Alan Ayckbourn debuted How The Other Half Loves at the Library Theatre in Scarborough showcasing his technical ingenuity as both writer and director.

It was the first of his plays to overlap simultaneous action in different locations within the same space on stage. It is a device he would continue to experiment with over time, most notably in. Taking Steps where he overlaid three floors of a single house on top of each other and – this summer – he will return to the idea with his new work Family Album with three generations in different decades occupying the same space.

But it all began with How The Other Half Loves with a limited production budget and the challenge of how to realise Alan Ayckbourn’s script.

How The Other Half Loves world premiere at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1969 (© Haydonning Ltd)

The photo for this week’s Essential Images is our only clear view of how this was achieved in the world premiere production with a shot of Act I’s infamous dinner party scene in which two dinner parties in different flats on different days are portrayed simultaneously.

The image shows the cruciform table enable both dinner parties to be shown with swivel chairs for William and Mary to switch from one party to the other; intriguingly the designer of the West End, Alan Tagg, apparently copyrighted his design for this despite the fact it was essentially identical to what had been produced by the Library Theatre the previous year and which had, as writer, been devised by Alan Ayckbourn.

It’s a very simple set – it had to for an in-the-round production for which the play was conceived. We can see the differences in the two tables and how the drinks cabinet is split between two very different styles. The sofa contrasts with the coffee table indicating the different tastes of the two flats.

It illustrates how simply and effectively Alan Ayckbourn was able to portray his idea – as opposed to the somewhat overwrought proscenium arch design of the West End production. where it was visually hammered into the audience there are two flats occupying the same space.

There are very few images from the early world premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays which give us a clear idea of how the plays were staged, this is a rarity in which we can grasp how the play worked in-the-round.

It also gives us an indication of how the play was meant to be seen. Ironically, the vast majority of audiences who have seen How The Other Half Loves have not seen it as the playwright would wish. He conceived it for in-the-round performance and sincerely believes that, like Taking Steps, it benefits most from being produced and seen in this staging.

You can find out more about How The Other Half Loves on Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website by clicking here.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce either the article of image without permission of the copyright holder

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