Damsels In Distress: Articles

This section contains articles written by Alan Ayckbourn about the Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays. Click on a link in the right hand column to read the other articles in this section.

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the West End premiere of Damsels In Distress at the Duchess Theatre during 2002.

Damsels In Distress

Like all the nicest things, certainly in my life, this project came about partly by design and partly by happy, spur-of-the-moment inspiration. At the end of 2000, I decided that for the following Scarborough season I would put together a permanent company of actors, stage management and technicians to stage a series of plays over an extended run.

In common with most repertory companies throughout the country, the Stephen Joseph Theatre had begun of late to rely more and more on 'spot' casting. That is to say, finding the right team for a single play and then moving on to cast the next.

This system has distinct advantages, the main one being that it makes economic sense. An actor is employed for the rehearsal period - no less and not a day more. The disadvantage is that it tends, with all the comings and goings, to give a theatre the air of a busy airport transit lounge. Everyone, in a sense, is passing through to somewhere else. No one's there to stay for long. They sit there like passengers with their overnight luggage, never really mentally unpacked.

Especially for young actors, unless they're extremely outgoing or born with a natural reckless streak, this leads to a certain artistic caution. If they take risks and inadvertently blot their copybook on this one-off occasion, maybe they'll never be asked back.

On the other hand the company system was, of course, at one time the way practically all regional theatres operated. At best, after a few performances played together, the rehearsals become a far more relaxed process with trust and security developing between director and actor and, more importantly, between actor and actor.

Because of the shared responsibility engendered from each successive play, the star/supporting actor relationship gives way to a more or less equally distributed workload where each performer in turn supports the other. The company itself becomes the 'star'.

To this end I decided to write two plays for a company of seven (this number was quite arbitrary artistically; merely the maximum number we could financially afford). The result was first
GamePlan and then FlatSpin.

The plays were in no way related. They shared nothing in common except they were written for the same combination of actors, four women and three men. Though later, as I started to write, I realised that both plays could, miraculously, fit into the same set. My Artistic Director's eyes lit up!

All this was planned and executed and, happily, the result was all I could have hoped.

The seven (the Magnificent Seven as Guardian critic Michael Billington later dubbed them) proved a joy to work with and the rehearsal process was relaxed, enjoyable and creative. As a result, and this was certainly not planned, I became inspired to write a third piece,
RolePlay. Again, with this play there is no thematic link to the other two except it uses the same cast and the same set.

And yet...

Looking back today, a year on, I sometimes reflect - are they linked beyond that? Are they related in ways I hadn't planned? Does each reflect themes contained in the others?

If so, I have to confess, it's all happened on a subconscious level and probably isn't for me to answer. I'm probably the last person to know. Maybe that's up to others like you, the audience, to tell me.

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.