Taking Steps: 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.
  • Taking Steps is the only play by Alan Ayckbourn specifically intended to be performed in-the-round (although How The Other Half Loves only achieves its full potential as a play when produced in-the-round). The central conceit of the overlapping floors of a house on a single level only works if the audience can see the entire floor of the stage. This was his solution to staging a farce in the round, replacing the doors so common in farces with the floor.
  • Several years prior to writing Taking Steps, Alan Ayckbourn conceived the basic idea of a play with a wife leaving her husband with another man reading her farewell letter first. To Alan’s mind, this was just a sketch though and it was only several years later, with the idea of setting the play in a three storey house with each floor overlaid on a single flat set, that the idea actually came to fruition in Taking Steps.
  • The play was actually delivered a week late to rehearsals as Alan Ayckbourn was still writing to the deadline of rehearsals at this point and had huge problems with how to finish the play which were not resolved until well into the first scheduled rehearsal week.
  • The play infamously had a terrible first read-through with one of the actors actually leaving the company. In Alan's biography, his biographer Paul Allen writes: "But the read-through was almost catastrophic. One member of the company read his role (rather badly, Alan says) and then said he didn't much like it. There was a white-faced confrontation and the actor left. A replacement was found in Jeffrey Robert." The role in question was the builder, Leslie, and the actor who left was Robin Murphy whose only previous appearance in an Ayckbourn production had been Sisterly Feelings the year before.
  • The sketch below is the earliest known design for Taking Steps, taken from Alan Ayckbourn's original hand-written notes for the play. Although, much of it is unclear, the concept of the 'flat' stairways can be seen and the scribbles in the centre of the stage seem to indicate movement by the characters during the play. This sketch is held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York.


Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. The sketch is copyright of Alan Ayckbourn and held in the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York and should not be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.