Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre is currently proudly presenting a global first, Alan Ayckbourn’s newest production, Anno Domino, online. The show premiered on the SJT’s website on 25th May and is now available exclusively as an audio recording.
At the age of 81, the Olivier and Tony Award-winning writer has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather (Heth) Stoney, to record the new show during lockdown, after the SJT’s summer season was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis. The plan was hatched by Alan Ayckbourn, a former radio producer and the theatre’s Paul Robinson to create a brand new audio production, in which Alan and Heather could produce and record in their own home.
Original arrangements had to be changed when the pandemic hit theatre productions hard. Sir Alan was set to direct the world premiere of his new play, Truth Will Out, alongside a new production of his 1976 classic Just Between Ourselves, as well as SJT Artistic Director Paul Robinson’s production of The Ladykillers at the Scarborough theatre this summer.
Anno Domino looks at the break-up of a long-established marriage and the effect that has on family and friends. In it, the two actors play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s. It’s the first time the married couple have acted together since Alan’s last appearance on a professional stage, in William Gibson’s two-hander Two for the Seesaw at the Rotherham Civic Theatre, back in 1964.
Since the mid-sixties Alan Ayckbourn has pursued a hugely successful writing and directing career, while Heather Stoney has continued to act, appearing in many of Alan’s productions. Heather’s last full season as an actress was at the SJT in 1985, during which she appeared in the world premiere of her husband’s Woman in Mind.
“The inspiration for Anno Domino came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand!” explains multi-award-winning Alan Ayckbourn. “And it only takes one couple to break up abruptly to take us all by surprise, then all of a sudden everyone is questioning their own unshakeable relationship. A so-called domino effect, in fact.”
Anno Domino is said to be one of the playwright’s ‘lighter’ productions, as a hopeful and joyous piece, to provide perfect entertainment in a very contemporary response to the current coronavirus situation. It also marks the first time Alan Ayckbourn has both directed and performed in one of his own plays.
In reaction to the unusual times we’re all experiencing, Sir Alan acknowledges that for some it’s not such a big change. “Lockdown life has been pretty normal for me. Maybe when I (don’t) start rehearsals in a couple of weeks, it will hit me. But when I’m writing like I am now, I avoid everybody – except Heth and the cat!”
But during such a tricky period for the arts, does Alan Ayckbourn have any concerns? “I think the future of the theatre hangs in the balance, frankly. But then in my lifetime it invariably has done as a new challenger emerges to threaten its existence – radio, movies, TV, the internet, virtual reality etc. BUT, in the end, survive it will – as the admirable Bones almost put it: “It will be theatre, Jim, but not as we know it!”
Anno Domino is available to listen to until Thursday 25th June.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – June 2020. To view the full magazine, click here.