Archivist uncovers Alan Ayckbourn's 'lost' first draft of his classic Absurd Person SIngular

Simon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn's archivist, with the rediscovered manuscriptSimon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn's archivist, with the rediscovered manuscript
Simon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn's archivist, with the rediscovered manuscript
An archival discovery has re-written the history of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Absurd Person Singular during its 50th anniversary.

A discovery of the long-thought-lost, original abandoned draft of Absurd Person Singular, alongside concept notes and the first hand-written first draft of the play, in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute of Archives at the University of York offers a new perspective into one of the key works of late 20th century British theatre.

The discoveries are highlighted in a new website, jointly launched by Alan Ayckbourn’s Archivist and the Borthwick Institute, offering an insight into this discovery and how it alters the story of how the play was created.

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Previously the Scarborough-based playwright has spoken of how he abandoned his initial draft of the play after 10 pages moving the action from three living rooms to three kitchens and removing a fourth couple when he began re-writing it.

The new discovery found he had written 40 pages of the initial abandoned draft – consisting of a complete first act and half the second act. The script bears almost no similarity to the actual play with different dialogue, character relations and plot points. Even more astonishing is that the abandoned script and actual play were all written within the same week.

Simon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn’s archivist and the person responsible for the find, said it was a significant discovery, particularly in light of the play celebrating its world premiere 50 years ago at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1972.

"This is the sort of find archivists dream of making and it was astonishing to read these hand-written pages and realise we had found Alan's long-believed lost abandoned draft of the play.

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"The discovery highlights the rare occasion when the playwright gets it wrong, corrects himself and goes on to produce an acknowledged classic of British theatre.

" Alongside the discovery of the previously unknown substantial cuts following the first performance of the play, for the first time, in conjunction with the Borthwick Institute for Archives, we can tell the complete story of how this extraordinary piece of British theatre came to be created.”

The discovery coincides with other recent acquisitions pertaining to the play which include rehearsal and production manuscripts, which also reveal the playwright cut half-an-hour of material from the play following its first public performance; these cuts have never been publicly seen since.

“It’s exciting to know that on the 50th anniversary of the world premiere of Absurd Person Singular, the Borthwick and my Archivist have re-discovered my earliest notes and drafts of the play – which had long since passed from my own mind,” said Ayckbourn.

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"While my focus is always on my next play, I’m delighted that the archive exists at York for people to come and make similar discoveries of the many things that have been forgotten over time - I’m sure there is much to discover.”