Broadway Word Interview with John Cotgrave – published 4th December 2019
This holiday season, while the bright lights of Broadway shine on a high-profile revival of Charles Dickens’ familiar morality tale, up-and-coming English troupe Dick & Lottie is importing another best-loved British yuletide play, Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, the darkly hilarious comedy about three couples at three Christmas parties. The intimate production will play this December at off-Broadway’s newly-renovated Theatre Row. BroadwayWorld sat down for a long-distance chat with the acclaimed company in anticipation of their American debut.
Am I talking to Dick or Lottie?
Haha! The name of the company comes from the Ayckbourn play ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR. Throughout the play, Dick and Lottie Potter are two off-stage characters. They never appear, but you can hear them in the adjoining room. The handwritten logo of the company represents Lottie Potter signing a Christmas card.
Ah! Tell us about the origins of Dick & Lottie.
Dick & Lottie was founded in 2004 by John Cotgrave (me!) and Richard McArtney; two hugely dedicated Ayckbourn fans. Based in Huddersfield at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, the company was formed to present the works of Alan Ayckbourn to the highest possible quality and standard, staying true to the vision and spirit of the playwright’s writing. The company has even performed for the playwright in his own rehearsal room in Scarborough in 2015; the only time Alan Ayckbourn has extended such an invitation. That same year, the playwright agreed his Archivist – Simon Murgatroyd – could become Dick & Lottie’s Patron and their work would be promoted via his official website.
Why Ayckbourn? What is it about his writing that attracted you?
I was first introduced to Alan Ayckbourn back in 1988. I’d started sixth form college in the center of Manchester and in my free time I’d spend hours at the Geoffrey Clifton Theatre Book shop. The wall was adorned with every published script available – usually French’s acting editions. They were all in alphabetical order and starting at the very beginning I picked up my very first Ayckbourn script, flipped through it and read some dialogue – that play was “Absent Friends.” At the same time, my tutor had loaned me a video of the BBC production of “Season’s Greetings,” which I simply marvelled at and watched countless times. Alan Ayckbourn has been in my life ever since. He’s a great story teller: the complex and dysfunctional relationships; the clever structure of his plays; the challenges he sets theater makers; the focus on woman and their relationships with marriage and men; the breakdown in communication and language; the carefully crafted moments of chaos; and, of course, his massive contribution to British theater.
What is your favorite play by Alan Ayckbourn?
“Absent Friends.” It’s a beautifully written play. Set in real time, it features a riotous tea party ending with the hostess suffering a distressing mental breakdown. The language is so captivating and the humor infectious.
Of all of your Dick & Lottie productions, which one was the most memorable?
“Man of the Moment” because it features a full-size swimming pool! We staged the play as part of our 10th anniversary in 2014. Our audiences loved it and many fought to sit on the front row so they could get wet when a character jumped in. The first thing we had to check was whether the stage floor could take the weight of more than 1,500 gallons of water. It did, but when we finished the load out, the floor had a noticeable dip where the pool had sat! Fortunately, the theater floor was to be replaced anyway.
Which Ayckbourn play do you really want to produce in the future?
We would love to do “Way Upstream.” Set aboard a cabin cruiser on the River Orb, it has a huge, complex set and will certainly provide a challenge for our technical team and designers.
Why did you choose ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR for your New York debut?
It was chosen during a discussion with our venue, Theatre Row. They offered us a three week window over the holiday season and we felt that one of Alan’s Christmas plays would appeal. Ayckbourn revived “Season’s Greetings” this year, so it was felt that it would be poor taste to chose that play. His popular 1972 play, ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, which is set during three successive Christmas parties, seemed the obvious choice.
Tell us about your cast.
We have assembled a fabulous cast to bring this Ayckbourn classic to the New York stage. A very talented and experienced company has been rehearsing ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR here in England, and you are in for an absolute treat. Josh Nutbrown (of West Yorkshire) is playing Sidney Hopcroft with Eve Burley (who hails from Rossendale in Lancashire) playing his wife, Jane. Adam David Elms (from Devon) is playing Ronald Brewster-Wright with Maria Sykes (of West Yorkshire) as his wife, Marion. Alex Michael Thompson of Chester is playing Geoffrey Jackson and York’s Claire Marlein appears as his fragile spouse Eva. Maria Sykes and Claire Marlein recently appeared in our production of Ayckbourn’s “Damsels in Distress” trilogy. The other actors are all new to Dick & Lottie.
What are your plans for the future of Dick & Lottie?
We have many aspirations for D&L. We would like to make annual visits to New York, sharing our passion for Ayckbourn’s work. We already have a project lined up for Fall 2020. It would be totally amazing to hold an Ayckbourn festival in New York using British and American actors. It would be a great opportunity to bring both theater communities together and to celebrate one of the world’s most successful playwrights. In our five year plan, we have the following plays in mind: “House & Garden,” “The Norman Conquests,” “Body Language,” “Henceforward…,” “A Brief History of Women,” and “Taking Steps.” I’m writing this backstage during our current production – “How the Other Half Loves.” Our audiences have absolutely loved this production. We’d like to revive it again, possibly in New York!
Tell us why New Yorkers should see ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR?
We are offering theater-goers a real Christmas treat. They have the opportunity to sample a typically English Christmas. This perfectly-timed holiday revival will feature British actors, performing an iconic British play, directed by an experienced director who has staged 33 Ayckbourn plays in the last 15 years. We hope everyone will join us for a cup of Yorkshire tea and a slice of Christmas cake!
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR had its world premiere in June 1972 at The Library Theatre, Scarborough, England, directed by Eric Thompson, father of actress Emma Thompson. Ayckbourn has said that its enigmatic title was actually meant for another play altogether. Now famous for being set in three different kitchens, Ayckbourn’s early drafts of the play had the action taking place in the living room. The play opened in London’s West End in July 1973 and after moving theaters and several cast changes, ran a total of 973 performances. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of 1973. There were major London revivals in 1990 and 2007. The play made its Broadway debut in October 1974 and ran through March 1976. It was revived on Broadway in 2005. A BBC teleplay was aired on New Year’s Day 1985 (subsequently seen in the US on PBS) and is now available on BroadwayHD.com. The play has become a favorite with community and regional theaters worldwide. http://absurdpersonsingular.alanayckbourn.net/
The Dick & Lottie Theatre Company production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR begins performances at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, New York) on December 11, 2019 and continues through December 29, 2019. For tickets and information visit Telecharge at https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Absurd-Person-Singular Visit Dick and Lottie at http://www.dickandlottie.com
Michael T. Mooney has staged the American premieres of four plays by Alan Ayckbourn: Body Language, Family Circles, Snake in the Grass, and Improbable Fiction. He served as Production Adviser at Rutgers University for Absurd Person Singular; seminar host at Two River Theatre Company’s My Wonderful Day; and authored program notes for Intimate Exchanges at Philadelphia’s 1812 Productions. He is the founder and director of The 4A’S (Alan Ayckbourn Aficionados of America), where he was responsible for staged readings of seven rarely-heard Ayckbourn plays as well as two full-scale evenings about Ayckbourn’s work and career.