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Anno Domino – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

Writer: Alan Ayckbourn

Director: Alan Ayckbourn

New and different times call for new and different approaches, a challenge which the SJT took on. When their summer season was cancelled due to Covid 19, Sir Alan Ayckbourn and the theatre’s Artistic Director, Paul Robinson, came up with idea of producing a play designed to live stream and adhere to safety regulations. Necessity is the mother of invention and while they say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, the 81 year old Sir Alan, one of the world’s most prolific playwrights, immediately put pen to paper, or was it finger on computer(?) and came up with Anno Domino.

The two act play begins with the 25th wedding anniversary of Sam and Milly, when they reveal startling news. Celebrating at their favourite bistro with Sam’s parents Ben and Ella, his sister Martha and partner Craig; joined by Raz, Martha’s son who forms an attachment to the waitress, Cinny: so four couples. The news not only takes the family aback, it uncovers hidden elements in all of their relationships, having knock-on effects, very much like the dominos of the title. The title refers to a breed of rose in Ben’s garden, Anno Domino, also the Latin for advancing years, as well as the domino effect- all clever stuff.

The story deals with how the actions of one couple have a direct effect on the relationships of the rest of the family. Various members are confronted with truths they would prefer to ignore. Vaguely reminiscent of the story line in Ayckbourn’s 1992 play, Time of My Life, when at a birthday celebration in the family’s favourite bistro, secrets are revealed; that play takes place in one location, moving in time, whereas ‘Anno Domino’ occurs in various locations and in present time. In both plays, as always, Ayckbourn’ s astute observation shines through, deep insight into character is given by the smallest comment.

This production is a first in more ways than one: the first of Ayckborn’s plays to premiere as an audio play, his first to stream online, and the first time he has performed in and directed one of his plays. In fact it is 56 years since he last acted and it was also with his wife, Heather Stoney. A little lighter in content than his usual works, Anno Domino still presents deep insight into what moulds one’s character, in a sympathetic yet poignant way.

It is the Oliver and Tony Award winning author’s 84th play. All eight characters, aged from 18-70 are convincingly and compassionately performed by him and his wife Heather Stoney; hearing Ayckbourn as an 18year old is so believable it’s uncanny. Recording it in his home, he drew on his many years’ experience in the BBC when he was a Radio Drama Producer, having worked on over 250 radio dramas. The final mix is by Paul Stear.

This was written as a stage play which can hopefully be seen on stage in the future, because as Sir Alan says “The excitement and spontaneity of live theatre is like nothing else”. However for the moment you can still enjoy his words and work by listening to this audio play which is free on the SJT website.

Available HERE until 12pm on Thursday 25th June

The Review Hub's Score

Revealing family relationships

User Rating: 3.8 ( 1 votes)

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