Family Album: History

Family Album is Alan Ayckbourn's 87th produced full-length play and was written during the winter of 2021 for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and premiered on 6 September 2022.

This was actually the third play Alan Ayckbourn wrote for the late summer 2022 slot at the SJT. Having been commissioned to write the play, Alan wrote two plays during late 2021 -
The Late Wife and Welcome to the Family - which he intended to offer as a choice for the venue. However, at the point he was due to send them to the Artistic Director for consideration, he notified the theatre there would be a slight delay as he had instead begun work on a third play which he believed might be more suitable.
Behind The Scenes: Generations
Alan Ayckbourn's original title for Family Album was Generations, which can be seen in his earliest notes for the play. The title switched to Family Album prior to him writing the play.
This was Family Album, which he began writing in mid November 2021 and complete on 10 December of the same year. Whether the other two plays will ever be produced is unknown at this point.

Family Album follows three generations of the same family in 1952, 1992 and 2022 in the family home; coincidentally the 70 year period of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (see A Royal Death below). For the first time in an Ayckbourn play, three different time periods occur simultaneously; at certain points, events from all three time periods take place simultaneously on stage and scenes from one period flow into another.

Previously Alan has had two time periods occurring place simultaneously
(How The Other Half Loves), three or four different periods of time portrayed separately in one play (Time of my Life and A Brief History of Women) and events in three locations at the same time shown simultaneously (the three floors of Taking Steps), but never three different time periods running together and in and out of each other.

It was in part inspired by the BBC historical documentary series
A House Through Time in which the various inhabitants of a single house are researched over centuries. Although the idea has similarities with his play A Brief History of Women (2017), here the emphasis is on three generations of one family that have occupied the same house, rather than the story of one man and the house he becomes associated with.
Behind The Scenes: A Royal Death
Family Album is set during 70 years of British history from 1952 to 2022 - coincidentally and unexpectedly mirroring the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen's death was announced at 6.30pm on 8 September 2022 during the plays' world premiere run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. With people already arriving at the theatre, the decision was made to continue the show with a minute's silence at the beginning. There was one change though, the stage ,management team realised a newspaper being read in the 1952 segment of the play featured a headline referring to the death of King George VI. Reasoning some members. Of the audience might find this upsetting, the front page was removed that night before being restored. (With thanks to Jeannie Swales)
The playwright also condensed the span of time being covered to roughly correlate with his own lifetime. Alan was aged 13 when the play starts and it draws on his own experiences and observations throughout his life.

The play has a mirror structure in which the events of Act II reflect that of Act I. Whilst Act I opens with the family in 1952, Act II opens with the family in 2022. Events - particularly relating to 1992 - are those seen and presented in a different light allowing the events of the middle period to become clearer.

Family Album is written for a cast of one male and four female actors and charts a course through the experience of women through the decades; it particularly focuses on the post-war generation of women who were never given the opportunity to reach their potential due to families favouring the male children.

Originally the play was intended to have more men present in the play. Early notes indicate that in the 1992 sections, the absent husband was present and that in 2022, the grand-daughter was in a relationship with an older man named Terence. In the actual play, the 1992 husband never appears and in 2022, the grand-daughter is in a same-sex relationship. Alan noted in interviews, the play could be perceived as charting not only the rise of women over seven decades, but also the decline of men.

The original cast featured Elizabeth Boag, Georgia Burnell, Tanya-Loretta Dee, Antony Eden and Frances Marshall. It again highlighted Alan's process of working with both familiar and unfamiliar actors. Antony, Frances and Elizabeth had all worked previously with the playwright but he had never worked with Tanya or Georgia before. *

There are also two non-speaking roles of the removal men in 1952 and 2022. For the original production
, they were played by graduates from the Coventry University acting degree which is run in partnership with their SJT.

Family Album premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 2 September 2022 and reviews of the play were predominantly good, if mixed. As an example, it had 4-star reviews in The Observer and The Stage, 3-star reviews in The Guardian and Daily Telegraph and a 2-star review in The Times. However, the company were universally acclaimed and it was agreed the structure of the play was ingenious with interesting themes.

The play then embarked on a short in-the-round tour and was also filmed by the SJT for streaming for two weeks. This marked only the second time - after
The Girl Next Door in 2021 - when a world premiere production of an Ayckbourn play, directed by the playwright in-the-round, was filmed.

In October 2023, Antony Eden won the Best Supporting Performance Award in the UK Theatre Awards for his role of John in the world premiere production.

Family Album was published in September 2023 and is available for both amateur and professional productions.

* Interestingly, Georgia was cast after Alan saw her in his world premiere production of his own play,
The Girl Next Door - despite the fact he did not direct her! This was due to the fact that the production opened during the Covid pandemic in 2021 and the SJT employed a 'bubble cast'. An entirely separate cast and company, directed by Chelsey Gillard after Alan, who were kept entirely separate from Alan's company ready to take over as a whole if any member of Alan's company fell ill necessitating the whole company go into isolation. As a result Georgia was part of the world premiere company but never actually directed by the playwright.

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