Interview: The Press (1 July 2003)

This interview was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 1 July 2003.

Ayckbourn Can't Turn Down A Big Opportunity

by Charles Hutchinson

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, is forging links with the National Youth Music Theatre for the first time in a musical collaboration between Alan Ayckbourn and composer Denis King.

Ayckbourn was commissioned by the NYMT for the project. "A company of 40 plus? After nearly 45 years of writing almost exclusively for a small cast, low budget, regional subsidised theatre, how could I resist? It's a joy," he says. The joyous result is Ayckbourn's 65th play,
Orvin - Champion Of Champions, an epic new musical tale of accidental heroism.

Old-style Hollywood drama is coming to Scarborough from August 7 to 23 when a court-jester underdog takes centre stage to re-write history. That underdog is Orvin, hopeless squire to the Great Ulmar, legendary warrior and champion of Sollistis, whose story is to be told by the chorus of gods. Alas their narrative suffers a major technical hitch when Orvin oversleeps on the eve of battle.

What follows proves a challenge even to such seasoned storytellers as the gods themselves as they attempt in vain to re-write history with the help of Orvin, the unlikeliest, most reluctant of last-minute replacement champions.

"You don't often have the chance to write for a cast of 40, do something fun, with sword fights and dances," says Alan, relishing an opportunity that was first proposed seven years ago. "I met Jeremy Taylor [director of NYMT] at the annual Andrew Lloyd Webber junket in 1996, where the National Youth Music Theatre were doing an excerpt from one of their shows, and Jeremy said `We must do something together'. He kept coming back to me and then two years ago he said `Well, what about it?'. He gave me three time structures to work to and I chose the furthest away!"

Ayckbourn was not seeking to put off the commission, so much as being realistic when faced with all his other writing, directing and administrative responsibilities. This summer, for example, he has already opened his 64th play,
Sugar Daddies. [1]

Rehearsals with the NYMT students, aged ten to 20, have been spread out: four days at Easter, four more at Whitsun, 12 days this summer, working in tandem with assistant director Laurie Sansom. "Laurie has been co-directing it with me as I didn't know where I would be with the progress of
Sugar Daddies," says Alan.

Just as he has been glad to have Sansom's assistance, Ayckbourn has enjoyed renewing his partnership with Denis King after their first collaboration on
Whenever at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2000.

By the wonder of e-mail, music and lyrics have travelled back and forth between playwright and lyricist in Scarborough and composer in Hampstead. "I write, he writes, then we wrangle for a while!" says Alan.

Orvin - Champion Of Champions is ready for its premiere.

Website Notes:
[1] Confusingly, Sugar Daddies is actually regarded as Alan Ayckbourn's 63rd full-length play with Orvin, his 64th. Despite Orvin being written before Sugar Daddies, the latter was premiered before Orvin at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, hence it being regarded as the 63rd rather than 64th play.

Copyright: Charles Hutchinson. This edited transcription and the end-notes have been compiled and researched by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.