The Girl Next Door: History

The Girl Next Door is Alan Ayckbourn's 85th produced full-length play and was written as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

As a result of the global outbreak, all the UK's theatre's were closed during March 2020 and Alan's latest play,
Truth Will Out, was cancelled at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. As a result, Alan went on to to produce an audio stream of a previously unproduced play called Anno Domino.
Behind The Scenes: Lockdown Plays
The Girl Next Door is just one of four plays written by Alan Ayckbourn during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 / 2021. This was the first play he wrote during May 2020 but this was followed by three more plays, Another Time, Another Place; Fourplay and All Lies. No further details have been given about the other plays and, as of June 2021, it is not known when or if these plays will be produced in the future.
As soon as Alan had finished working on Anno Domino in early May 2020, he immediately began writing a new four-hander called The Girl Next Door, which was completed in late May. The play features just four actors with Alan realising that post-Covid, it was highly likely large company casts would be unviable for the foreseeable future; indeed when theatres did re-open briefly during autumn / winter 2020, the emphasis was on small companies which would form social bubbles. The play is also specifically set during the national lockdown of 2020

The play was immediately sent to Paul Robinson, the Artistic Director of Alan's home theatre - the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough - for consideration. With the uncertainty surrounding the re-opening of the UK's theatres, no decision was made regarding the play until January 2021 when plans began to be made for the possibility of theatres in the UK being open again during the summer of 2021. The fact a new Ayckbourn play was a possibility was hinted at in an otherwise unrelated press release from the SJT in February 2021.

The Girl Next Door is described as a 'lockdown love story' by the playwright and is set in two neighbouring houses on the same street in London during August 2020. But all is not as it seems and a tale of how love can rise above adversity and reach across the years unfolds.

Rehearsals began on 4 May 2021 and unusually featured two companies (Red Team and Blue Team) due to the circumstances regarding the pandemic and lockdown. Alan Ayckbourn directed the Red Team with a company of his choice with the SJT's Associate Director Chelsey Gillard directing Blue Team, which she had cast - each team also had their own specific stage management team allowing each company to create a complete social bubble.

Chelsey attended the first two weeks of Alan's rehearsal at his own rehearsal space before rehearsing Blue Team entirely separately - and without the playwright's input - at the SJT. In the event of a member of Red Team being diagnosed with a positive Covid test, they and the rest of the company would be isolated for 10 days with the Blue Team taking over performances. The Blue Team were also scheduled to perform a limited number of shows within the run regardless of whether Red Team had to isolate or not.

Intriguingly, the play shares the same cast requirements as Alan Ayckbourn's classic play,
Relatively Speaking. This was due to the fact that Alan did not know when writing it if it would be running in repertory with a revival of one of his works; in the event that it did, he matched the casting with Relatively Speaking.

The Girl Next Door opened at the SJT on 4 June and was well received with four star reviews from The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Mail. Such was its success that it, unusually for the SJT, returned for a further six performances from 1 - 4 September 2021 before touring to the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Notably, the production was also recorded by the SJT and streamed from 28 June to 3 July and 1 - 19 September 2021, concurrent with performances of the actual production. This marked the first time a stream of a live production of an Ayckbourn play directed by Alan Ayckbourn himself had taken place.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.