A Chorus Of Disapproval: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Alan Ayckbourn's introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 1
A Chorus of Disapproval had a curious start. I wanted to write a play about an operatic society, heaven knows why. My first idea was to pen something for a large cast, using professional principals and a supporting cast of dozens of amateur singers. The latter would be seated in the auditorium, to all appearance like members of the audience, but they would from time to time during the action stand up and sing some linking comment or other like an operatic Greek chorus. I planned to base the play around a presumed production of The Vagabond King. I had read the libretto and I confess it amused me no end, particularly its choreographic stage directions.
Several things conspired to thwart the original idea. The Rudolph Friml Estate, fearing for their play, refused to release the rights. For which I didn't blame them one bit. Simultaneously, those members of the local Scarborough Operatic Society whom I had approached seemed reluctant to accept anything but leading roles, for which I didn't blame them either; and finally Equity, the Professional Actors' Trade Union, declared the whole idea of including amateurs in this way unacceptable. Which forced me into swift solutions, all of them, it transpired, blessings in disguise.
First I decided to work with an entirely professional company and thus with a much smaller cast; sensible and far more economic. Secondly, to avoid further copyright problems, I found an author who had been dead so long that he and his relatives no longer cared. Which led me to a musical play I greatly admired and had always wanted to produce, Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Which in turn provided the missing piece to the whole venture. Gay's play had a plot which echoed almost perfectly the one I intended to write and provided the perfect mirror image on which to build my own dramatic structure.
Moral: always work with something you admire and not with something which you only set out to make fun of. That way you might even manage to raise your game rather than lower it.
A Chorus Of Disapproval (Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round 1984 production programme note)
Often in the past (though heaven knows why) it has been assumed I have based certain of my characters on local living persons. May I emphasise that this is certainly not so in the case of A Chorus of Disapproval. To quote the standard disclaimer, "The characters and situations are entirely imaginary and bear no relation to real persons or actual happenings.”
There are, to the best of my knowledge, at least two fine amateur operatic societies locally. Neither of these is PALOS though some situations and events that occur during that society's staging of The Beggar's Opera might conceivably ring certain bells for anyone who's struggled to produce any show, amateur or professional.
Moreover there are, to the best of my knowledge, no mad, elderly councillors of whatever political persuasion living in Scarborough. Certainly none with scheming, alcoholic wives. Nor, living in the area, do I know of any dishonest builder given to swapping his or any other's wife. There are surely no singing Co-op Branch Managers with arsonist daughters, bent Welsh solicitors with neurotic wives or hyper-aggressive barmaids either. Surely?
There was, however, until recently one very real, distinguished Scarborian who was a tireless and continuing friend of this theatre almost from the moment it started until his death, earlier this year. As Chairman of our Theatre Trust, his efforts on our behalf, based on his firm belief in our importance nationally as a company, helped guide us through some of our darkest days. We'll always be grateful to him and we already miss him a lot.
He was, of course, Tom Laughton. Although he most certainly does not appear in this play either, I like to think it would have amused him somewhat. In any event, it is dedicated, with much affection, to this most kindly and civilised of men.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.