Roundelay: Background

Roundelay is Alan Ayckbourn's 78th play and premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during summer 2014.

Alan had been formulating ideas for the play since 2012 and began work on writing it in spring 2013. It was completed on 8 December 2013 and is in part inspired by Alan Ayckbourn's fascination with Chris Ware's award-winning book
Building Stories; a graphic novel consisting of a variety of elements, which it is up to the reader to choose in which order (or of how many) they wish to read. The random nature offers a different perspective on the events each time it is read and, dependent on their choices, each reader will have a different experience of the graphic novel.

To translate this idea onto the stage, Alan wrote
Roundelay, which consists of five self-contained one acts plays (The Judge, The Novelist, The Politician, The Star and The Agent), written to be performed in any order (leading to 120 possible combinations of the play); Alan's hope being that during a production run of the play it will be performed in as many permutations as possible. The plays themselves all being subtly inter-connected, sometimes through shared characters and sometimes through overlapping narrative. Some are prequels to others, being themselves in turn sequels to others.

During rehearsals for
Roundelay, the unexpectedly excessive running time of the play led to the playwright considering making a slight alteration to his original intention (see Behind The Scenes) but after consideration, Alan decided to just edit the plays down rather than affect the original intent and concept. The running time was still a cause for concern though as when originally performed, the play - including interval - ran for three hours.

For the Stephen Joseph Theatre's world premiere production, the order of the plays was randomly decided by the audience half-an-hour prior to each night's performance by the drawing of coloured balls in the venue's upper foyer. During the initial 35 performances of the play at the venue (prior to it going on tour), there were only three repeats of previously picked permutations (see
Statistics page for a breakdown of each performance). During its complete original run (including the Stephen Joseph Theatre and its subsequent UK tour), 52 different permutations of the play were performed with 17 performance being a repeat of a previously drawn permutation.

Roundelay picks up on a number of previous Ayckbourn themes such as how our perception of character is changed by what we already know of them (The Norman Conquests and House & Garden) as well as memory and how it affects our lives and how we perceive both ours and other people's lives; Alan's previous play Arrivals & Departures was described as a memory play.

Roundelay opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 9 September 2014 with reviews praising the cast and the ambition of the play - as well as the quality of much of the writing - although several reviewers did question to effectiveness of the structure and whether it was a help or hinderance to the play. The play was a success with audiences though.

The original production was followed by an in-the-round tour to the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windemere. A short end-stage tour, opened at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, in January 2015. The play would receive its first amateur production in January 2017 by the Alan Ayckbourn-dedicated company, Dick & Lottie, at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.

In 2015,
Roundelay was the main subject of a book by the noted academic Albert-Reiner Glaap with Confusions To Roundelay: Stages In Ayckbourn's Creative Work exploring Roundelay within the context of his play canon and thematic development.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.