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One by one, drama companies on both sides of the Atlantic are asking themselves: What now? Even those companies that have announced their 2020-21 seasons are shying away from committing to firm opening dates for the productions they’re planning—and after they’re allowed to reopen, social-distancing requirements could make it impossible for them to seat enough playgoers to pay the bills….
I’ve been touting streaming video in this space as a short-to-medium-term solution to the problem. But there is a second option, one whose potential has been demonstrated to richly satisfying effect by the world premiere of “Anno Domino,” the 84thplay by Alan Ayckbourn, the director emeritus of England’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and one of the greatest playwrights of the postwar era. It’s a two-ac tor, eight-character play originally intended for the stage but newly adapted by Mr. Ayckbourn for audio-only production, and it’s being performed by the 81-year-old author, who hasn’t acted since 1964, and Heather Stoney, his wife and a noted stage actor in her own right. Directed by Mr. Ayckbourn, “Anno Domino” was recorded by the couple in their home—they even supply their own sound effects—and the Stephen Joseph Theatre is making it available for free on the company’s website.
Most of Mr. Ayckbourn’s plays are what I call sad comedies, studies of the difficulties of middle-class life that crackle with farce-charged laughter but also have unnervingly dark moments. While some of them are predominantly light in tone, “Anno Domino” occupies his usual middle ground. It takes place before and after a party thrown to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of Sam and Milly, who have a surprise for their guests. In Milly’s blunt words, “Sam and I are splitting up…We’ve done the sex, had the kids, seen them both off the premises. We’ve had enough. We’re sick to death of each other’s company and frankly, there has to be more to life than this.” No sooner is this grenade tossed than the other characters start rethinking their own lives….
According to the author, “The inspiration for ‘Anno Domino’ came from the idea that all relationships ultimately, however resilient they appear to be, are built on sand.” That’s a well-worn theme for Mr. Ayckbourn, but it is his special genius to be able to ring perpetually fresh changes on it…
* * *Read the whole thing here.