Intimate Exchanges: Early Concepts / Correspondence

As such a unique and fascinating part of Alan Ayckbourn's canon, early references to Intimate Exchanges and how he perceived the play are of interest. Below are reproduced two letters concerning Intimate Exchanges written prior to beginning rehearsals and having completed the first of the scripts. The first letter is to his agent Margaret Ramsay, better known as Peggy, and the second is to his designer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Edward Lipscomb. Both pieces of correspondence are now held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University of York.

Correspondence from Alan Ayckbourn to his agent Margaret Ramsay, 17 May 1982
I think news of my new play must have reached you on the wind. I'd kept news of its imminent arrival from you only because I thought you might come and shoot me for completely losing my senses.
It transpired, through various circumstances, that 80% of the Scarborough company this summer decided that it was time for them to leave and move on and I found myself with a company of two. Normally, I suppose, I would have re-cast and carried on with the season I originally planned. Since these old plans included
Way Upstream which would have meant my doing an entirely fresh production of it virtually (not a good idea with the National coming up) and Making Tracks which, as you know, Paul and I are re-working for Michael, it seemed sensible to throw all these plans overboard and start afresh. Suddenly I had an entire summer season and just two actors. I'd always dreamt of writing my two-hander but because of the size and scope of it, I needed time and leisure to stage it. (Let alone write it). Suddenly I had this.
I think I better describe the venture to you before I send you anything. If you'll remember, in
Sisterly Feelings I explored somewhat tentatively alternatives in play construction. Whereas in that piece, the alternatives were fairly limited, in this new piece entitled Intimate Exchanges, this canvas is far bigger.
Mathematically it works that after about five seconds after curtain up, we go into a choice of first scenes. These two first scenes lead in turn to a choice of four second scenes. These again lead to the interval and a choice of eight third scenes which start the second act. Finally, these eight scenes themselves divide for a series of 10-15 minute last scenes of which there are sixteen in all.
What I'm really writing is a sort of large novel or perhaps it would be better described as a series of closely related short stories all starting from the same premise. We shan't be doing any random performances as the sheer size of the piece makes it far too difficult, particularly for the actors. Of course, in any one evening they would only be playing four of the scenes but they would finally, I hope, be walking around with 30 of them in their heads.
There's an added complication that they're not even playing the same characters but a series of six main ones with one or two subsidiaries as well. Needless to say, I hope this is more than a gimmick as all the characters themselves are tightly inter-related.
I've written a little over half of it now - what I trust will prove the most difficult half - and will, I hope, now continue to add scenes as time goes on. I've plenty of time in this respect since the actors have more than enough to work on already and would probably faint outright if they saw another script.
If you like, I'll start sending you the plays as they come out. Though you may feel rather like one of those recipients of chain letters by the time you've got the eighth.
Obviously, some of the scripts will contain material that is the same but there are, nonetheless, two scripts which are totally different in every respect, four that are very different, eight that are semi-different and sixteen that are only different in their last scenes.
I don't expect anyone ever to see all of them but I do think, in these very difficult times, that it is a good thing that some of us occasionally should embark on a project on a scale that suggests that we have a future….

Extract from correspondence from Alan Ayckbourn to his designer Edward Lipscomb, April 1982
Briefly. It looks - because of the scale of the thing - that the two actors are going to be playing more than one part. (Why not get more actors, the man asks - ah, well - it's all significant etc). Anyway. They're fairly sharply defined characters (probably four each) and we've obviously got to be very clever with the changes which are deliberately and horrifically quick, some of them.
The set(s). Well. They're all outdoors. Act I stays more or less in the same place. An unkempt garden. Smallish. With a garden shed (see-through) and a patio leading to a modern bungalow. It's on the edge of a playing field, beyond the shed. The playing field belongs to a small struggling private school (mixed) and the modern bungalow belongs to the headmaster and his wife.
The point about this first act set is that it moves slightly. Occasionally, the shed should be bang centre and the patio should recede. At other times, the patio is central (as it were) and all we see of the shed is its door at the mouth of a vom [vomitorium - a stage entrance], say - so people can go in there and disappear. (Sometimes to cleverly run round the back and come on as someone else looking for themselves!)
In the second act, we strike out as it were, remain in the open air but we plan, anyway, to go to a cricket field (edge of, with pavilion), a cliff somewhere along the coast, a camp site, a croquet lawn, oh, you name it, we'll go there. I'm trying to finish up in a churchyard - but there are limits to how many weddings, funerals and christenings the play will take.
I think, though, that what you might be thinking about is this... In view of the permanence of this set - well, presumably you can still keep a grass base that's permanent - it would be lovely to envelope the auditorium a little, wouldn't it? So we were all outdoors. (Watch the sight-lines!) I think a general feeling of greenery would suit everything.
News of the waterfall, anon.
(That was a joke).

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