Performing the serious business of comedy…

Gary Jefferies

SOME years ago, my son gave me a book for Christmas: The Crafty Art of Playmaking by Alan Ayckbourn. I had, over the years, seen and enjoyed quite a few his plays at the National, in the West End, and indeed at Trinity. Not surprising when you consider that he is possibly the world’s most performed living playwright.

But I hadn’t had the opportunity to direct an Ayckbourn play until, in 2011, I was invited to direct Absurd Person Singular for the Goudhurst Amateur Dramatic Society. My respect and enthusiasm for his work increased dramatically as I studied the text, perfectly described by theatre critic Quentin Letts as ‘masterly filleting of the English mind’, so I have wanted to direct another Ayckbourn for the past six years.

Some of his plays are challenging to produce on a modest budget; Way Upstream (1983), for example, famously presents a real waterway and a moving boat capable of holding the entire cast. Not something that Trinity Theatre Club would be likely to welcome with open arms.

But when I read Private Fears in Public Places I knew I’d found the next Ayckbourn I’d like to direct. The play has been described as filmic, with many brief scenes and the action moving immediately from one location to another. The characters are wonderfully complex – they have their private fears, as do we all, and Ayckbourn’s observation is ruthless, which can also be hilarious.

The comedy comes principally from the situations the characters find themselves in and, as Ayckbourn says, ‘the best comedy springs from the utterly serious’.

Yet Private Fears in Public Places is not one of Ayckbourn’s best-known plays. This is in part because in 2004, when it was written, Alan Ayckbourn was not given permission for his new work to be performed in the West End, following a dispute with producers over Damsels in Distress in 2002. So, following a run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in 2004, Private Fears in Public Places went to the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond in 2005 and then, in a surprising move for the Scarborough company, to New York, as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

In New York the reviews were spectacular, and the play became a hot ticket and had a sell-out run. Of course, the producers were anxious to transfer such a big hit to a larger Broadway venue, but Ayckbourn would not give permission, considering the play unsuited to larger theatres.

Fortunately for us all in Tunbridge Wells, Trinity Theatre is perfectly sized for Private Fears in Public Places. As Quentin Letts wrote in his review of the play in 2004, ‘Private Fears in Public Places makes for a super night out’ – so do come and see it.

For further information, ticket prices and performance times, visit or call the Box Office on 01892 678 678


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