Life & Beth: History

In February 2006, Alan Ayckbourn had a stroke during the aftermath of which, he was genuinely unsure whether he would ever write again. Yet the following year, he would write his first new play since the stroke with Life & Beth, the first of many plays which would follow.

Behind The Scenes: Snowstorms
Life & Beth was the first play Alan Ayckbourn wrote after his stroke in 2006. One of his inspirations to start writing again was the film adaptation of his play Private Fears In Public Places by Alain Resnais. He was particularly taken by the decision to set the film in a snow-bound Paris and hinted his new play might involve snow - although he joked his stage management would not be happy with the audience tunnelling their way out of the auditorium! Although Life & Beth was set at Christmas, the snow was - sadly - not to survive the writing process.
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.

Behind The Scenes: Life After Beth
The play was originally going to be called Life After Beth and Alan, at this point, considered setting the play after Beth's death rather than after the death of her husband, Gordon. It is not known whether Alan intended Beth to be the ghost in his early concept for the play. Alan's intention to call the play Life After Beth was revealed in an interview with Chris Boyd for The Morning After: Performing Arts In Australia blog, published on 15 April 2008 prior to the official confirmation of the play's title.
Alan's original concept for the play was called Life After Beth but both the concept and title changed to Life & Beth when he began writing the play during the summer of 2007; he would only go on to confirm he had written a new play in an interview on Christmas Eve 2007 with Radio York.

The announcement of the play confirmed it would not only be part of the summer 2008 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, but that it would form part of his final summer season as Artistic Director of the venue and that it would be performed in repertory with two of his earlier 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 the actress 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.

Behind The Scenes: Sound of Silence
Ella, Martin's girlfriend in Life & Beth, is one of only several main Ayckbourn characters who has no lines and is the most substantive role in an Ayckbourn play who never speaks. In an interview with the playwright in 2008, he noted: "Ella’s one of my few characters who never speaks. I never intended her that way: I started writing her and she came in the door and said “oh” once and I thought she hasn’t got anything to contribute. It’s a colour the play needs to have very clearly and these characters can be very strong. She starts in distress and ends in high dudgeon!"
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. Contrary to what websites such as Wikipedia might say, 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.