Time And Time Again: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Time And Time Again (Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round 1986 production programme note)
Time and Time Again I principally remember 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 in 1971, 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 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. One safe guide to the creation of a well-made play is to have a central character whose purpose, ambitions, decisions and sheer sense of destiny will drive the piece forward and give the play a unity. If he achieves his aims, so the theory has it, it's a comedy; if he doesn't, it's a tragedy.* In Time and Time Again, 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.
(*The theory referred to, and slightly bowdlerised, here is that of the nineteenth century French dramaturge Francois Brunetiere. It is a text which was much loved by the late Stephen Joseph, who translated it into English and propounded it to his students as the most important statement on the drama since Aristotle's Poetics).
Time And Time Again (Unrecorded production programme note)
I wrote Time And Time Again I think in 1971. I'm always a little hazy about when I wrote things. It came in sequence immediately before Absurd Person Singular and immediately after a manic piece of theatre that never got anywhere very much called Me Times Me [later retitled Family Circles].
I remember the Scarborough production. It was, in common with most of my plays, first presented in the Round, and the pond leaked on the first night and flooded the Library Reading Room below. Also 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
I remember the West End production as the first but by no means the last collaboration I have had with Eric Thompson as director, Michael Codron as producer and Tom Courtenay as leading man.
I always think of the piece as a love story, though admittedly with one of the protagonists 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.
Perhaps 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. 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.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.