Life & Beth: BackgroundLife & Beth is notable for being the first play written by Alan Ayckbourn following his stroke in February 2006. Just prior to the stroke, Alan Ayckbourn had completed his 70th play If I Were You. When he returned to work at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in September 2006, If I Were You was his first production and meant a new Ayckbourn play was premiered at the theatre that year. However, following the stroke Alan noted in interviews he had understandable concerns about whether it had affected his ability to write as his writing process had tended to be intensive, involving long hours over a short period.
However, in interviews Alan seemed adamant he would write again, even noting he could well draw from his hospital experiences. Initially, Alan concentrated on resuming directing and did not approach the actual task of writing again until 18 months after the stroke. Then, in the summer of 2007 during an interview with The Guardian (dated 6 July 2007), Alan said he had been inspired by the film director Alain Resnais's work on the film adaptation of his play Private Fears In Public Places and hoped to begin writing a new play imminently; at the time he hinted it might be a play featuring snowfall on stage, but this idea was never used.
Alan completed the script for Life & Beth (the probably called Life After Beth, see Behind The Scenes) during the summer of 2007; although he did not confirm this until an interview with BBC Radio York broadcast on Christmas Eve 2007. There he confirmed he had both written his 71st play and that it would be part of the summer 2008 programme at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, his final summer season as Artistic Director. It was later revealed it would form part of a season of three Ayckbourn plays. On 11 February 2008, the title of the play was revealed and that it would play in repertory with revivals of Haunting Julia and Snake In The Grass. Although the plays share no recurring characters, each has a supernatural element and shares themes such as how parents affect their children's lives. Although Alan does not regard these three plays as a trilogy, Life & Beth was written to accommodate the casting requirements of Haunting Julia and Snake In The Grass as well as uniting the two companies in one play.
Alan had frequently said that he would consider writing a third supernatural play which would unite the all male and all female casts of Haunting Julia and Snake In The Grass. The impetus to write Life & Beth came when Susie Blake, who had played Miriam in the world premiere of Snake In The Grass in 2002, contacted Alan enthusiastic to reprise the role with Liza Goddard playing her sister, Annabel. Alan eventually agreed before noting to Liza Goddard that he had decided to write a new play to be performed alongside Haunting Julia and Snake In The Grass during his final summer season as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2008.
Life & Beth is lighter than the other two supernatural plays, but still clearly features the idea of how children are affected by their parents. Set in the aftermath of Gordon's death, it becomes clear that his sister, Connie, suffered as a result of their parents doting on Gordon. Similarly, Gordon's son Martin is struggling to live in the shadow of a man perceived by those around him to be an ideal husband and father; the reality being somewhat different. Like Haunting Julia and Snake In The Grass, a ghost also features and, again, the choice as to whether Gordon is a real manifestation of the supernatural or just something created by the mind of Beth is left to the audience. Whether one believes in Gordon or not, the play implies that cats can certainly become ghosts when the spectral apparition of Beth's cat Flagstaff runs riot at the climax of the play; a nod to Alan Ayckbourn's own fondness for cats.
The world premiere of Life & Beth featured Liza Goddard, Ian Hogg, Susie Blake, Adrian McLoughlin, Ruth Gibson and Richard Stacey and premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 17 July 2008. It also toured to the New Victoria, Newcastle-under-Lyme, immediately following the Scarborough season. In 2009, Life & Beth was re-directed for the end-stage by Alan Ayckbourn and went on a successful six venue UK tour with the original cast except for Terence Booth and Eileen Battye replacing Ian Hogg and Susie Blake.
Life & Beth was published in October 2011 as part of the Faber collection Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5 and separately in an acting edition by Samuel French Ltd.
Note: Life & Beth is occasionally inaccurately referred to as part of the Things That Go Bump trilogy; Alan Ayckbourn has never referred to Haunting Julia, Snake In The Grass and Life & Beth as the Things That Go Bump trilogy and does not consider these three plays to be a trilogy. See Behind The Scenes for further details. There is no such thing as Alan Ayckbourn's Things That Go Bump trilogy.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.