Absent Friends: Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes offers a glimpse at some rarely known facts regarding the writing of Alan Ayckbourn's plays with material drawn from the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York and the playwright's personal archive.
  • Judging by the surviving hand-written notes held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University of York (see below for two examples), Absent Friends was not conceived as a 'real time' play and had a different structure to its eventual form. The earliest hand-written notes by the playwright indicate the play was to be either three or four acts and set in a dining room. The play would centre on dinner with one act viewed entirely through the eyes of the men followed by the same dinner viewed through the eyes of the women. The men and women would then be brought together for the final act, presumably highlighting the different perspectives and differences of experience of the dinner. This concept was abandoned before Alan began writing Absent Friends, but offers an intriguing insight into a play which appears to have been closer related to the more technical plays which preceded it. By the time Alan had settled on the structure of the actual play and began writing, he had stripped it of all artifice and made it structurally the most simple of all his plays so far with a single setting, two act play set in actual playing time.



  • Alan Ayckbourn was notorious for writing his plays to the latest possible deadline from the 1960s to the early 1980s, but Absent Friends possibly stands as the play written to the tightest possible deadline. Committed to working with Eric Thompson on the London premiere of The Norman Conquests at the Greenwich Theatre during May 1974, his wife Heather Stoney recalls Alan Ayckbourn left London on the Thursday before rehearsals began for Absent Friends on the following Monday - having not yet written a word of the Absent Friends script! The play was apparently finished by the Friday night, typed on Saturday and copies made and delivered on the Sunday for rehearsals the following day!
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. The notes are copyright of Alan Ayckbourn and held in the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York and should not be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.