The Sparrow: Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes offers a glimpse at some rarely known facts regarding the writing of Alan Ayckbourn's plays with material drawn from the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York and the playwright's personal archive.
  • The Sparrow is the earliest play by Alan Ayckbourn in which the original contract for the play is known to have survived. The contract, between Alan Ayckbourn and Studio Theatre Ltd, is held in The Bob Watson Archive at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and notes that Alan Ayckbourn received seven-and-a-half percent royalties from the gross box office receipts. This was guaranteed at a minimum of £100 by the Arts Council of Great Britain.
  • The Sparrow was submitted to the Arts Council of Great Britain in the hope of gaining a guarantee; this ensured that the playwright would get a minimum payment (in the case of The Sparrow, this was £100) in the event royalties from box office receipts did not reach this level. As a result of this, the play received feedback from readers for the Arts Council. These, which were generally far less complementary than the actual critical notices for the play, are held at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and reprinted below.
"The piece is short for a full length theatre play. The author finishes the play with no finish. He literally leaves us exactly where we came in with the air of having had enough of it himself - so that‘s that. I think this is exacerbated because amusing, facile and witty as the dialogue is, the meeting of the four characters throughout the acting of the comedy produces no development, change or, in the main effect upon each other at all. In terms of character, the piece is absolutely static. One wishes it had just that further development of insight and character that the quality of the dialogue and the author's gift for character justifies. One would be happy enough to see the play produced as a light summer evening's divertissement, but why a guarantee? lt is a four character, one set comedy and could not be more economical to produce. Only the "stigma" of being a new play is against it."

"It's only a slight little comedy, but it has a touch of quality. Dialogue and characterisation ring absolutely true. Mr. Ayckbourn tells us everything about his people and their relationships that he wants us to know."

"A simple tale, of one basic situation. It is told with competent, unthrilling dialogue, but it doesn‘t get us anywhere. The characters arrive, move, speak, and leave, but neither they nor the situation develops. Like that old-fashioned game called Coffee Pot, I could enumerate many things which
The Sparrow is not, but it isn't worth doing so. It is, probably, a custom-made playlet for four actors known to the author, and they may enjoy it for a week. It is, and should be, transitory."

Copyright and research: Simon Murgatroyd