Time Of My Life: BackgroundThere are few Ayckbourn plays where you can definitely point to a distinct inspiration. Yet Alan has always been frank that Time Of My Life developed as a result of him being a self-confessed "terrible eavesdropper" in restaurants. Here we have a play where the audience are the eavesdroppers, witnessing the ordinary traumas of a normal Yorkshire family.
The play also developed from Alan’s desire to experiment with time and he credits one of his inspirations as the playwright J.B. Priestley and his plays which deal with time. Alan's twist was to create a play where the past, present and future are revealed simultaneously and intertwined within the course of the piece.
The play centres on a birthday gathering at a restaurant. After the initial scene, the mother and father are presented in two hours of real time. Interwoven and juxtaposed with this and each other are the plots of the two sons and their relationships. The oldest son’s story moves forward over time, encompassing two years and revealing the father died shortly after they left the restaurant. The youngest son’s plot moves backwards over the course of two months, revealing the beginning of a relationship which we see disintegrate in the forward moving strand.
It is a technically ambitious play and, as Alan noted at the time, "daringly static for me". The play juxtaposes events from the past and future, playing with what knowledge the audience possesses and which the characters frequently do not possess. It is undoubtedly quite a bleak play and its central message that we don’t tend to recognise the moments when we are truly happy is one of the harsher truths to emerge from an Ayckbourn play.
Time Of My Life is also a very frank exploration of the institute of marriage and possibly one of the most insightful with regard to Alan’s opinions on the subject. The play deals with three relationships: Gerry and Laura who have been together all their lives, despite the fact their marriage has become little more than a convenience. In Laura’s character, we have a cynical woman who has manipulated her marriage and her family to achieve what she wants. She is unsentimental and driven - although she was once obviously very attractive to Gerry to whom, no matter what else, she has remained loyal (with one exception) to. Her character believably allows us to accept Laura’s ability to transform her life after Gerry’s death; although Gerry meant much to her, ultimately she will not lose her life because he is no longer there.
We are also presented with Glyn and Adam’s relationships. Adam is in the early, unexpected throes of a passionate relationship which makes it all the harder when we see the relationship falter and fail despite all his efforts, largely due to the devices of Laura. In Glyn, we see a doomed marriage of a perpetually weak man, cowed by his mother from youth, and the effect this has on his wife. It is only after their marriage collapses and his wife Stephanie believes she has lost it all, that she discovers just how much potential she has and how much she has wasted on a man who is not what he initially appeared to be.
This is not a happy view of marriage, which concurs with the numerous interviews at the time where Alan talks about marriage and his view that men and women are, ultimately, unable to live with each other and that those who do, do so at a cost to their characters and lifestyles. Of course to put this in perspective, Alan himself has been happily married since 1997 and his views may have mellowed over time!
The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, in April 1992 with Russell Dixon and Colette O’Neil playing Gerry and Laura. Despite lukewarm reviews and its apparent bleakness, the play went down well with the Scarborough audiences. Michael Codron decided to produce it in London with Alan directing the original cast with the exception of Gerry and Laura now played by Anton Rodgers and Gwen Taylor. The production had a two-month pre-West End tour before opening at the Vaudeville in August 1993 to mixed reviews; it is generally agreed a good production was largely lost in an unsuitable venue and it did not have a long run in the West End. Alan went on to express severe doubts about the suitability of the play for production in the end-stage and was not convinced the transition to the West End was a good one; despite this - and presumably as a means of recouping money from the West End production - Codron launched a UK tour of the play in mid-1994 with Anna Carteret and Gareth Hunt starring.
On its 21st anniversary in 2013, Alan Ayckbourn returned to the play with a critically acclaimed revival of Time Of My Life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. This production would tour the UK in 2014 as well as making its New York premiere as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at the 59E59 Theaters, as part of the Ayckbourn Ensemble (alongside Arrivals & Departures and Farcicals) with Russell Dixon returning to the role of Gerry Stratton, which he performed in the world premiere production in 1992; the production was extremely well-received by critics and audiences.
Time Of My Life is another play of Alan’s from the late 1980s / early 1990s that only in more recent years has come to be appreciated as a significant play from the Ayckbourn canon. A considerable resurgence of interest of the play has demonstrated that it is not only a technically clever play but an often funny and truthful look at relationships, written in such a manner we learn more about the characters and empathise with them more than we could in a typical narrative.
To critics at the time, who felt Alan had been going into strange and unfamiliar territory with the more fantastic ideas of Wildest Dreams and Body Language, it seems to have been rather lost that this is a play which - stripped of its structure - deals very much with the familiar Ayckbourn themes that critics had been arguing had apparently been lacking in recent plays: that of the relationships between men and women, families and the institution of marriage.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.