Life Of Riley: History

With Life Of Riley, Alan Ayckbourn returned to the idea of off-stage characters previously explored in plays such as Absent Friends and Absurd Person Singular. Here though, instead of being peripheral to the action, an unseen character is central to the play.
Behind The Scenes: Going Meta
Life Of Riley is the first play in which Alan makes a self-reference. Although previous plays referenced characters and locations of other plays (such as the town of Pendon), Life Of Riley is the first play to reference Alan Ayckbourn himself as the opening scene begins with two characters rehearsing lines from Alan's breakout play Relatively Speaking.
Life Of Riley is dominated by the unseen and terminally ill Riley, manipulating off-stage the characters we do see like a puppet-master. It marked the playwright's 74th play and was premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, in 2010.

Life Of Riley seems to have gestated longer than most plays in Alan Ayckbourn's mind as there is evidence in the Ayckbourn Archive that he intended to write a play several years earlier with the same title - possibly around 2008. Although the proposed plot outline is substantially different - and the unseen central figure not featured - there are certain similarities between both it and another play outline called Barnstairs Syndrome from the same period, which lay the foundations for what was to become Life Of Riley. Whilst some of the character names were retained for Life Of Riley as written, several - most notably Winnie Barnstairs - were used in My Wonderful Day (2009).

Alan began writing the play in October 2009, completing the first draft on 11 December 2009; apparently he rewrote the entire first act before completing the play; sadly no copy of the original first act survives in archive.

Life Of Riley was first announced in an interview for the Elmbridge Lifestyle magazine on 26 January 2010. At approximately the same time, the actors Liza Goddard and Kim Wall committed to the play; Liza had appeared previously in the world premieres of If I Were You and Life & Beth at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Kim Wall had previously appeared in the 2009 Ayckbourn At 70 celebration at Northampton's Royal & Derngate, winning plaudits for his roles in Just Between Ourselves, Private Fears In Public Places and Man Of The Moment, the latter directed by Alan Ayckbourn who was impressed by his performance as Douglas Beechey.
Behind The Scenes: True Life Inspiration
Alan has emphasised on several occasions that the character of Riley is not based on or inspired by any specific person and that it is up to the audience to draw their own conclusions about Riley from the perspectives of the other characters. However, the playwright has said that the general appearance of Riley that is presented during the play was inspired by a specific audience member at the Stephen Joseph Theatre who lived in Whitby, but who regularly visited the venue to see Alan's plays and who the playwright had spoken to on several occasions.
In interviews and during the launch of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's summer season in May 2010, Alan revealed that the play's title character, George Riley, would not appear in the play and that the play also bore similarities to his 1974 play Absent Friends. When questioned on BBC Radio York as to whether the character of George was inspired by anyone in particular, Alan specifically stated he was not based on or inspired by a specific person. It was later revealed Alan's intention was for the audience to build up their own picture of the pivotal character of George around who everyone in the play revolves.

Life Of Riley opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 21 September 2010 sharing the same company as his revival of Communicating Doors with the plays in repertoire with each other. Reviews were generally positive with Libby Purves, the new lead critic of The Times, being particularly enthusiastic about her first experience of an Ayckbourn world premiere in Scarborough. The Times also ran an editorial leader on the same day proclaiming Alan as a "giant of the stage."

This production of
Life Of Riley toured to two in-the-round venues, the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Old Laundry, Bowness-on-Windermere, immediately following its world premiere run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. In January 2011, an end-stage tour of the play, directed by Alan Ayckbourn, opened at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford. Life Of Riley was published by Faber in October 2011 as part of the Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5 collection and as an acting edition by Samuel French in 2017.
Behind The Scenes: Film Choice
When the French film auteur Alain Resnais decided to adapt his third Ayckbourn play as a movie, he actually had two choices in mind: Neighbourhood Watch or Life of Riley.
The North American premiere of the play took place very quickly with a production in April 2011 at The Old Globe, San Diego.

On 16 May 2012, it was announced by
Variety at the Cannes Film Festival that the acclaimed French film director Alain Resnais (who has previously adapted two other Ayckbourn plays) would be making a film of Life Of Riley entitled Aimer, Boire et Chanter. The film premiered on 10 February 2014 at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize. Sadly, it was to be Resnais's final film as he died shortly afterwards on 1 March 2014. The film's UK premiere was on 6 March 2015 and it was also picked up for North American distribution at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Of the three filmed adaptations by Resnais, this is Alan Ayckbourn's least favourite.

Life Of Riley has proved to be a popular play with a number of professional and amateur productions. In 2014, it was even produced in repertory with Relatively Speaking - cross cast with the characters of Life Of Riley who are rehearsing the play - by Dick & Lottie, the only theatre company in the UK dedicated to the work of Alan Ayckbourn.

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