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Culture: Old masters at play; Amateur Stage.

Byline: By John Slim

I interviewed Alan Ayckbourn many years ago and was saddened to be reminded in one of the papers at the weekend of the stroke that our most prolific playwright suffered in February, while he was writing his 70th opus.

Intriguingly, it's called If I Were You - which also happens to be the title of one of more than 100 plays and books written by that other joyful genius, P G Wodehouse.

Wodehouse died an almost unbelievable 31 years ago and despite having nearly all his books I never caught up with him to meet him face-to-face when I was doing the rounds for profile interviews of celebrities of the era.

My copy of the Wodehouse If I Were You was the seventh printing, completing 57,431 copies - it tells me with extraordinary precision - and it cost me 5s (25p).

Equally precisely, I can report that I bought it on August 26, 1949. That was when I was three months into my National Service and devouring the Herbert Jenkins Green Label Wodehouse reprints as fast as I was allowed by the 4s (20p)-a-day bestowed on me by the Royal Air Force of the late King George VI.

I know nothing of the plot of Ayckbourn's If I Were You - Wode-house's involves the Earl of Droit-wich, which is a town, if not a title, within hailing distance of most Midlanders - and perhaps it is too much to hope, now that Ayckbourn tends to be deep into what is usually called his darker period, that it will have the unfailing fizz of his early work.

All will be revealed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from October 12 to November 1l. I'm sure that in the fullness of time it will find its way into the amateur catalogue and I'm equally sure that amateurs will fall over themselves to present it.

Even so, having seen - and enjoyed - several of the current crop of Ayckbourns, I shall always be grateful that Wodehouse never took his finger off the chuckle button.

Happily, Ayckbourn was still a reliable laughter-maker in 1973, when he wrote his sublimely clever Norman Conquests, consisting of three plays about the same six people at the same time at the same address - one of them set in the living room, one in the dining room and one in the garden.

Sutton Coldfield's Trinity Players have chosen Table Manners - the dining room one - for their production at Sutton Arts Theatre from September 4-9.

The company includes Ben Field and Karen Swann, who play husband and wife - having previously played the unrelated Tom and Sarah in the Players' Round and Round the Garden and the lovers in Chess.

Years ago, when three Black Country groups each presented one play in the trilogy within a very short period, I was mean-spirited enough to time the exits and entrances of the characters in each play, to see whether the production timings corresponded as people moved from garden to kitchen or wherever.

Unsurprisingly, they did not - but only the extraordinarily envious would take satisfaction from the fact.

This is a brilliantly satisfying piece of work and if the Players are up to form in Ron McKechnie's production, their audiences can arrive with confidence.

Still with Sutton Coldfield, I have to report that the programme for Tudor Musical Comedy Society's Guys and Dolls, which has somehow stayed with me since March, has prompted me to put in a plea on behalf of theatre historians.

In the absence of personal knowledge, nobody seeing this programme in years to come will have any idea where this particular version of the tale of Nathan Detroit, Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown was enacted.

A clue is perhaps in the inclusion of Highbury Little Theatre in the list of thanks - but there is also a red herring because Sutton Town Hall staff also receive an acknowledgment.

All right, I agree that March audiences at Highbury Little Theatre did not need to be told where they were - but anyone penning the Tudor tale in years to come will not be in their privileged position.

Birmingham group Youth Onstage is looking for new members aged from nine and 25 for its production of Aladdin, which will be at the Dove-house Theatre, Solihull from December 6-9.

There's an invitation for anybody interested to visit Ladywood Arts Centre at 5pm on Sunday to meet the rest of the company.

Rehearsals are held at the centre on Sundays from 5pm to 7.30 pm and on Wednesdays from 7 pm to 9.30 pm.

Deb Brook has more information on 077969 54505.

WHAT'S ON

Are You Being Served?, Rugby Theatre (Sept 2-9).

CAPTION(S):

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play, If I Were You, may not be packed with gags, but plenty of funny stuff can be found in his Norman Conquests series
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 30, 2006
Words:808
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