Awaking Beauty: Background

Awaking Beauty was Alan Ayckbourn's final play to open at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, whilst he was Artistic Director of the company.

Following his stroke in 2006, Alan Ayckbourn had announced his intention to retire from the role he had taken in 1972 as the company founder Stephen Joseph's successor. In 2008, it was announced Alan's successor, Chris Monks, would take over the reins of the company on 1 April 2009.

Alan chose to leave the theatre on a very different note with the world premiere of a new musical with the composer Denis King, marking their fourth collaboration and their third full-length musical together. Premiered in December 2008, it was an interesting choice to go out on as not only was it thematically unusual for Alan, but it also meant his final production was a musical prior to the start of a new Artistic Director whose background and most notable successes had previously been in musical theatre.
Behind The Scenes: Auto Inspirations
Although Alan Ayckbourn himself has never stated this, the actor Ben Fox - who played The Pigcutter in the original production - noted in an interview that Alan had told him the inspiration for writing a musical without instruments was a television advert! Alan was apparently inspired by an award-winning advert campaign This Is What A Honda Feels Like in which all the sounds of a car and its road journey were supplied by a choir of human voices.
Alan wrote Awaking Beauty during March 2008 whilst the Stephen Joseph Theatre was touring Alan's adaptation A Trip To Scarborough. While away from Scarborough, he wrote the entire book for the musical and recalls it was practically complete before Denis King even received it to begin work on the music.

Denis's remit was to create a musical without music - or more specifically without instruments. Although accompanied by a piano, the brunt of the music is carried by an a cappella chorus and some complex harmonising; a completely new departure for Alan's musical works.

Alan and Denis along with their partners subsequently went on holiday together to refine and finish the musical, which was officially announced in July 2008 by the Stephen Joseph Theatre alongside what would be an acclaimed revival of
Woman In Mind.

The musical is the first piece Alan has written aimed specifically at adults, largely due to its themes and infrequent language rather than anything offensive; given its obvious ties to
Sleeping Beauty, it was considered sensible to emphasise this was not a family fairy-tale musical.
Behind The Scenes: Animatronics
Awaking Beauty is the only play Alan Ayckbourn has incoporated animatronic puppets into. The three babies were created by Lee Threadgold of Animated Objects and given their limited stage time were very sophisticated. They were capable of mouth movement, blinking, up and down, left and right head movements, torso wiggling and arm and leg movements. The result - as many audiences noted - was disconcertingly real.
The plot, a sequel to Sleeping Beauty, subverts the genre to see fairy tale characters relocated to suburbia whilst taking a poke at the beauty industry and the perception of beauty. In its theme and concept, it can be seen as a definite progression of Alan's earlier musicals Dreams From A Summer House and Orvin - Champion Of Champions.

A slightly extended rehearsal period enabled Denis King and musical director Jonathan Williams to work with the cast on the complex harmonies of the piece and to manage its technicalities. Michael Holt's stage design involved several traps, whilst the play also featured three bespoke remote-controlled animatronic singing puppet babies designed and created by Lee Threadgold.

The play premiered on 16 December 2008 in the round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and received largely positive reviews. An original cast recording was also produced for the company, but which has never been made publicly or commercially available.
Awaking Beauty was published by Samuel French in 2010.

The final performance of
Awaking Beauty on 17 January 2009 informally marked the end of Alan Ayckbourn's 37 year tenure as the company's Artistic Director, although he did not officially step down until 31 March 2009.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.