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Anno Domino- An Audio Play
By Elyse Sommer
The radio play format, designed for listening rather than viewing enjoyed a golden age during the 1930s before television sets replaced radios as everyone's must-have means for regular news and entertainment. While a radio play's actors are never seen, music and sound effects were extensively used to help listeners visualize what was going on in the stories being performed. Actors had only their voices (no costumes or makeup) to help the audience imagine what they looked like.
Playwrights whose resumes include plays written for radio include Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. While Bectkett insisted that his All That Fall would always stick to its radio play roots, Director Trevor Nunn created a wonderful version with actors on stage and was still true to its intended format (to read my review of that production go here).
while Ayckbourn's extensive oeuvre doesesn't include an original radio play many of his stage plays have been adapted for radio and he did work as a radio drama producer for the BBC from 1965-1970. Until now, when he and his wife Heather Stonely have teamed up to make their home the stage on which to present Anno Domino , with Ayckbourn directing.
While it's not unusual for him to direct his own plays, he's also acting which he hasn't done in years. And while Stonely has enjoyed a long acting, career (often in Ayckbourn play premieres), the couple only acted together together once in in a 1969 production of William Gibson's 2-hander Two For the Seesaw .
Both Anno Domino and Seesaw, focus on one couple's long relationship and its eventual breakup, but the story of couple in Ayckborn's story involves six other characters. While radio plays often had actors use their vocal skills to take on several roles, I don't know if Ayckbourn would have had two actors play all the part for a stage production, but nowadays, using his and Stoney's Scarborough home as the stage and their playing all eight characters is an apt modus operandi. So is their providing their own sound effects.
To sum up the scenario, we meet Sam and Milly on a Saturday night. It's their silver anniversary and they're getting ready for dinner at a local bistro with his parents Ben and Ella, his sister Martha, her new partner Craig and her son Raz . By the time we finish eavesdropping on their preparations, it's clear that what should be a celebratory beginning of their journey towards the next landmark of an enduring marriage isn't going to happen. Act 2 is titled "Repercussion" and Sam and Milly's shocking decision to break up does indeed impact the lives and feelings of everyone at the Bistro — including the manager Ginny who adds a touch of young romance to this domestic drama.
When you click on the link to the Stephen Joseph Theatre's website an image of a set of domino tiles pops on screen. no need to look for more visuals. It's easy to navigste yourself through the two acts. There's even a link to take you to plot details (with a spoiler alert). The setup for the story is fairly basic, with limited sound effects rather than the more extensive and varied ones that made vintage radio plays a lot of fun.
Though Anno Domino is atypical in its structure, Ayckbourn enthusiasts will find themselves in familiar territory: A story that looks at marriage and manners that's both dark and comic. The current Anno Domino's take on that world is likely to be most appreciated by Ayckbourn devotees.
That said the cast of two manages to inhabit the characters ranging in age from teens to well past seventy, and bring them to vivid and clearly individualized life, However, the most memorable characters are the oldest ones. That's Sam's parents Ella and Ben, especially Ella. This mean spirited matriarch doesn't need a gun to be the play's villain. While her hostile reaction to Sam and Milly's separation is not shared by her more introspective husband Ben, he is nevertheless her partner in representing a group of Brits completely out-of-touch with the realities of modern society.
It's in his dialogue for Ella and Ben that the playwright has made this more than a familiar but less than top-of-the-line domestic drama but an astute satire astute satire of desperately adhered to belief in what Englishness means. Ella does not see her defense of all things English as jingoism. Instead of trying to understand why people might be better off divorcing, she is convinced that keeping a stiff upper lip is the way to deal with marital problems. Only as skillful a craftsman as Ayckbourn could make Ben sufficiently more thoughtful and nuanced to represent more adaptable to change older people and yet remain Ella's accomplice in championing the status quo
While Anno Domino is available free at your convenience until June 25th, it is also intended to be a fund raiser.
Postscript: Curtainup hasn't reviewed all of Ayckbourn's play, we've seen and enjoyed a fair amount. If you go to the enhanced by Google search box at the right hand side of this page and type in Ayckbourn, a long list will come up. And reviews are still available for you to click on and read — as Curtainup's entire content is.
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Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Cast: Alan ayckbourn and Heather Stoney
Available for listening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre
Running time1hr 45mins
Sound designerPaul Stear REVIEW FEEDBACK
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