AUDITION: JOKING APART
Directed by Christopher Lacey
Audition Date Sunday May 19 th at 3.00pm at The Stables
Playing Dates Friday 15 th November to Saturday 23 rd November (no performance
Monday 18 th November )
“Nothing is more boring than watching two successful, smug people in love sitting
on a stage. A very angry woman once said to me in a bar, ‘You miserable old sod.
Hundreds of us live very happily with one another. Why can’t you write about us?’
So I wrote Joking Apart’. The play is about a happy couple – you know those awful
people whose fridge never goes wrong and who get everything for half the price
you paid for it. But being me I surrounded them with characters who become
jealous of them and try to compete.” Alan Ayckbourn 1992
Alan Ayckbourn has repeatedly noted that – of his own writing – this is one of his
favourite plays. Writing in 2018 on the occasion of Joking Apart’s latest revival at The
Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough Ayckbourn noted that ‘I wrote
Joking Apart years ago – it was the nearest I’d got at that stage of my life to writing
an autumnal play about the sadness of growing older. I was then approaching my 40s
and feeling extremely old – I realise now, of course, that I was extremely young’. He
describes it as one of his ‘specials’, for which he has a particular affection. It has a
very delicate balance between the sad and the funny. The initial inspiration for the play
was realising that his son was then 18, able to vote and buy him a drink. ‘The passage of
time suddenly caught up with me! Elsewhere he also says that he could not have written
it when he was younger.
I have much the same feeling, I first directed it for The BATS
at the age of 36 in 1987, we produced it in ‘the round’ at The De La Warr Pavilion.
Despite being in correspondence with Ayckbourn about the play I am not sure I fully
understood it. I remember it as a happy production, and financially very successful. It
was my 22 nd production as a Director, hopefully now in my 69 th year this my 57 th
production will show that life experience has deepened my understanding and your
enjoyment of the play.
The following seems to tell a depressing story but the play is anything but in
performance. Jack Tinker wrote of it ‘Comedy has become as dirty word as refuse in
the West End these days. Yet here is Alan Ayckbourn, perennial as the sweetest rose,
to give it back its good name… The humour is often low key and Chekhovian in its irony.’
Sheridan Morley wrote ‘Mr Ayckbourn calls this a comedy, it is a comedy in the sense
that The Cherry Orchard is one. Joking Apart is a haunting and very funny account of
the awfulness of perfection … in the final reckoning I think it will live a lot longer than
most: the mechanics are less obstrusive than elsewhere, the characters more
thoughtfully drawn, the jokes more integrated’.
It also involves some hilarious physical comedy from a tennis game played in the winter
to a firework display going wrong. Set in a English garden complete with corner of a
tennis court it offers a chance for an ensemble cast to really stretch their talents and
have fun doing so.
Joking Apart is set in Richard and Anthea’s garden over twelve years on bonfire night,
a summer tennis party, Boxing Day and their daughter Debbie’s 18 th birthday. Richard
and Anthea are a perfect couple, to whom everything comes very easily and whose
genuine generosity, success and sensitivity seems to reflect badly on those around
Over twelve years we see Richard’s business partner Sven and his wife Olive, become
increasingly depressed at the ease of Richard’s success, and virtually nudged out of the
Brian, an employee, tries ineffectually, through a string of ever younger girlfriends, to
replace his love for Anthea.
Finally, there are the new neighbours, the vicar Hugh and his wife Louise. After
Richard tears down the garden fence to make a larger communal garden for Hugh, the
vicar misinterprets some interest in him from Anthea as a sign of love and he becomes
possessed by the belief he is married to the wrong woman. His declaration of his love
for Anthea leaves her genuinely confounded. Hugh’s wife Louise, thanks to her jealousy
together with her inability to raise or communicate with her son is driven to drugs and
Hugh into a crisis of faith.
The play ends with Anthea’s daughter, Debbie awaiting the guests for her 18 th birthday
party with Brian making one last attempt for an Anthea substitute, as the perfect
couple remain unaware that anything is wrong in their perfect world.
I have left the ages of the characters deliberately wide to give us the widest
possible latitude in the auditions. The only character whose age is fixed is Melody/
Mandy/ Mo and Debbie. She ages down from late 20s to 18 over the twelve
years. They are all different and increasingly younger, yet all resemble each
other. The others subtly age over the twelve year time span with a little discreet
greying here and there.
Richard: Richard is pretty straightforward. Good looking, and successful. His one
flaw is that he tends, gently, to extricate himself from scenes that threaten to be in
the least socially embarrassing. He has the uncanny knack of being very busy or not
there at all. It is no coincidence he cooks the dinner or makes the punch or wires up the
tennis court for the dance. Age 30s-40s.
Anthea: Attractive, cheerful, disarmingly frank. Anthea is good but not quite as
perfect as Hugh would imagine. She is very English. She comes from a very good family.
She’s well bred. Richard and Anthea don’t need rules imposed on them, telling them how
to live, they have the rules instinctively built in. Mostly she ‘s very happy to support
Richard. To go her own way. Deal with the kids. Run the place. She and Richard are a
team. She is slowly growing to realise that not everyone is like her and Richard. Age 30-
Hugh: Shy, rather nervous but with an air of quiet determination. A good man.
He is at the start a practising Christian he tries as best he can to live by Christ’s
teachings, which he finds a source of enormous strength and consolation and upon which
he has based his marriage, his career, his whole life. Little by little he is drawn to
Anthea, by scene two this concealed attraction grows a disenchantment with his wife
Louise. When in Act 11 he declares his love to and for Anthea is very painful because of
the surprise she shows. She thought of Hugh as a sweet, caring, loving man – but not
that sort of love. Hugh finally accepts that he may have left God, but God is still there
and he must spend the rest of his life making amends for the sin of – what? Lust, pride,
vanity? Age 30 -40s.
Louise: Pale, rather tense. A suburban creature, her fate inextricably linked to
that of her husband who rather fancied the idea of being a vicar’s wife, lording it
around the village and dispensing good works to the needy. She tries her best., and
indeed travels a long distance, witnessing her husband’s secret love for Anthea, losing
her self -confidence, self -esteem and belief. On top of this their ‘problem’ child has
grown up essentially ignoring them diminishing their self-worth as parents. Little
wonder that by Act 11 Scene 11 she has suffered a manic depression and is heavily
sedated retreating into a child-like state where she feels safer. It is important to note
that the idea of a woman driven to extremes and breakdown is a common theme in
Ayckbourn’s work and that he is never mocking the condition or the character. The
author’s intent is we sympathise with their plight and understand how they have been
driven to this point. What humour derives from scenes around them and is driven by
others and their reactions – generally selfishly and without true concern. Age late 20s –
Sven: Richard’s business partner, Finnish by origin. Pedantic, self- important,
regally accepting the attentions of Olive his doormat wife, fanatically competitive –
only to find himself outclassed by Richard’s business flair, and beating him at tennis
only to find that Richard had been playing a left-handed game. Slowly develops from
smug Scandinavian superiority to the flaccid self-pity of a man faced with the fading
of his powers due to a stroke or heart attack. Has a key couple of lines -referring to
Richard and Anthea – “ As friends beware of them ….Be careful. Beware”. Age 40s -50s.
Olive: Desperately small minded, so complacent you want to shake her. Married
to Sven whom she considered little short of God, and views the world through the
filter of Sven. She happily married her intellectual superior, but gradually realises
little by little that Sven has feet of clay. He patronises her dreadfully but she gives
herself over to the care and support of Sven. Age 40s-50s.
Brian: A piece of debris from Anthea’s past. He loved her and lost her to
Richard – Brian is caught in her undertow, but he has never let go of her. He tries
initially to recreate her by finding others like her. There is a sense that Brian is now,
as the years tick by seeking out girls increasingly unlike Anthea and as unsuitable as
possible. He is a man actually hollowed out by love. He is used by Anthea knowingly,
which she justifies by telling herself that Brian enjoys being used, it makes him happy,
to tell him to go away would be cruel. Age30s-40s.
Melody /Mandy /Mo /Debbie: All the girls are played by the same actress, aging
down from 30 to 18. Melody is Canadian, Mandy a an hippie like artist, Mo cross
between punk rocker and Goth – see P57 for an idea / Debbie – Anthea’s 18 year old
daughter – ‘pleasantly normal’ with a great deal of Anthea about her – key lines to
Anthea at the end of play “Haven’t you got any normal friends at all?…Well, they’re sort
of lost looking.” Age 30-18.
Ayckbourn considers all the parts central characters, Richard and Anthea are golden
catalysts around whom they revolve . We were fortunate to see the Ayckbourn
directed revival in Scarborough last year. He wrote in the programme ‘ Joking Apart
will, I suppose, remain relevant so long as there are people who resent being created
unequal and who cannot find it in their hearts to celebrate the good fortune and
accomplishments of other people’. It is both thought provoking and very funny at times
– rather like life!
We will have a read through in the summer and start rehearsals in September. Please
read and come to the auditions – the effort will be worth it. If you can’t make May 19 th
I will be happy to hold additional auditions in the week after, please feel free to
discuss the play with me.
Chris Lacey, Spring 2019
Tel 01424 435735 /