Surprises: Background

Surprises is Alan Ayckbourn's 76th play and was written during October 2011. The first public details of the play were announced when its title was confirmed by Alan during a pre-show talk for a tour of his play Neighbourhood Watch at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, on 10 November.

Despite having not been officially announced,
Surprises received wide exposure when Neighbourhood Watch transferred to the Brits Off Broadway Festival in New York during November 2011. A BBC news story confirmed the play's title and during a talk at the 59E59 Theaters and in an interview with, he unveiled the first details of the play noting it was set in the future and was one his plays which 'have their head in the future, but their heart in the past.' This article also confirmed the play would be presented as part of the London 2012 Festival to tie in with the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Surprises marked the first time an Ayckbourn world premiere would be co-produced between two theatres. In this case, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough - where the majority of Ayckbourn world premieres have been held - worked with Chichester Festival Theatre to present both Surprises and a 40th anniversary revival of Absurd Person Singular. The two plays not only share the same cast requirements, but also the same three act structure; this marking the first time Alan had written a three-act play since Absurd Person Singular in 1972; originally the play had been intended to play in repertory with A Small Family Business and would have had a larger cast and expanded plot (see Behind The Scenes).

The play had a number of inspirations, not least Alan's interest in longevity and how advances in medical science are rapidly and dramatically prolonging the average person's lifespan. A more unusual inspiration for the playwright though came from a song by the Swedish artist Silje Nergaard called
Dance Me Love, which inspired Alan to write a love story.

Further details about the play later emerged in an interview with the
Wall Street Journal when the playwright confirmed Surprises consisted of several intertwined love stories set in a near future with a central theme of longevity and with one character ageing from 16 to 66 years during the course of the play. He also revealed Surprises would feature another of his android characters (as previously notably seen in Henceforward… and Comic Potential) as well as a time-travel element; for those interested in such things, the Android - Jan - marks another step forward in Ayckbourn's androids. With each play, they tend to become slightly more complex and here are fully capable of emotions, if not lying.

Surprises opened on 17 July 2012 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, before transferring for a sold out season at the Chichester Festival Theatre in August. Playing in repertory with Absurd Person Singular, the play was well-received although arguably suffered slightly when compared to the established Ayckbourn classic. A tour for 2013 of Surprises, re-directed by Alan Ayckbourn for end-stage venues, took place between January and March 2013 and featured the original company.

In September 2013, it was announced by the UK Theatre Awards that
Surprises was one of three plays nominated for Best New Play.

Surprises was published by Faber in August 2012 as both a softcover and digital edition to coincide with the Chichester Festival Theatre transfer.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.