Anno Domino: History

Anno Domino is an unexpected addition to the Ayckbourn play canon - at least in the circumstances surrounding its first production. It is Alan Ayckbourn's 84th full-length play and it marked a number of unusual firsts for the playwright.

During 2020, the Covid-19 viral pandemic unexpectedly spread around the world with unprecedented consequences. One of these was the lockdown of every theatre in the UK, which saw the cancellation of performances and planned productions - which included the entire summer season of Alan Ayckbourn's home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, including his two planned productions for the year.
Behind The Scenes: Reunited
This is far from the first time that Alan and Heather have acted together. When the Victoria Theatre was founded in Stoke-on-Trent by Alan's mentor Stephen Joseph, Alan and Heather were founding members of the company and acted opposite each other - including two Ayckbourn world premieres and a revival. They would also act together in Alan's final performance before retiring as an actor in 1964 when they appeared in Two For The Seesaw at Rotherham Civic Theatre.
Almost immediately after the lockdown - as theatres began to adapt to the new 'normal' by looking to digital platforms - the SJT's Artistic Director, Paul Robinson, began to explore the possibilities and potential of streaming performance material. He approached Alan, who suggested an exciting and unexpected possibility: the world premiere of a new Ayckbourn play debuted as an audio play on the SJT's website.

Excited by the prospect of the SJT still premiering new writing - particularly a new Ayckbourn play - despite the lockdown, Paul and Executive Director Caroline Routh approved the idea. Alan's idea was that, due to the lockdown, he and his wife, Heather Stoney, would play all the roles in the plays (six main roles with a couple of 'walk-on' parts); this is not as strange as it may sound as both Alan and Heather started their careers in theatre as professional actors - Alan began his career as a professional actor and Heather was a successful actor on radio, screen and stage.

The recording session took place at Alan's home during the lockdown and called on old skills from his days as a
BBC Radio Drama Producer based in Leeds between 1965 and 1970 where he produced - at a conservative estimate - more than 250 radio dramas. From there, he edited the production and created a sound-plot; Alan has created the sound-plots for the vast majority of his world premiere productions stemming from his initial work as an Assistant Stage Manager in the theatre and, again, his work with the BBC.
Behind The Scenes: Reunited
Although, officially, Alan retired as an actor in 1964, visitors to his home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, are likely to have heard the playwright in action. Uncredited for a number of years, Alan has provided a number of off-stage voices for his plays - perhaps most memorably, the foul-mouthed Arthur in Private Fears In Public Places (2004). As a result, audio recording his creations is not unfamiliar to the playwright. Also - largely uncredited - Alan creates the majority of the sound plots for his own productions, often in association with the SJT's Sound Designer Paul Stear.
The play was finished and played for the first time on 2 May and then sent to the Stephen Joseph Theatre where Paul Stear, responsible for the final mix, worked on the recording in preparation for its launch at 12pm on 25 May 2020. The recording was kept a secret outside the SJT until the official press announcement on 15 May 2020.

This production marks a couple of firsts for the playwright. It is the first of his plays to debut as an audio play - and online stream - and it marks the first time he has both directed and acted in one his own plays.

Although adapted slightly as an audio play,
Anno Domino is nonetheless written as a full-length, full-cast staged work and - on stage - has a multi-location set. It centres on three couples within the same family: the parents, their son and daughter and their respective partners. Interestingly of the protagonist couple - Sam and Milly - only the husband is generally seen, Milly purposefully being an off-stage voice. For the audio adaptation, this - of course - is not apparent.

The plot the play looks at the break-up of a long-established marriage and the effect that has on family and friends.

Anno Domino is being debuted as an audio play and being made available to stream via the SJT during these challenging times, Alan Ayckbourn hopes that when theatres around the world re-open, Anno Domino will also be seen on stage. He has written it as normal, as a full-length stage play but which just happened to have its debut as an audio production.

Anno Domino will be available for a month from noon on Monday 25 May to 25 June and can be heard here.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.