Intimate Exchanges: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Intimate Exchanges (Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round 1982 brochure note)
Have you ever reflected how those tiny decisions we make every day of our lives - (Shall I take a raincoat today?) can often require us to make further small decisions (Should I shelter in this doorway?), that lead to larger decisions (Shall I accept this stranger’s offer of a drink?) which then demand a really big decision (Should we see each other again?), forcing you into those vast decisions (Shall we share our lives together?), that finally lead to the truly monumental decisions (Is it time we called it a day?)
Intimate Exchanges (Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round 1982 production programme note
At the very start of Intimate Exchanges, a woman is faced with a small, fairly trivial decision. Should she resist having that first cigarette of the day before 6.00am.
On some nights, her willpower is strong enough; on others it isn’t.
The two quite separate chain of events that result from her choice lead, by the end of scene one, to another character making two further decisions, this time of a slightly more important nature. Just before the interval two more choices, more crucial still, are to be made. Finally, preceding the fourth and final scene, another two major courses of action remain to be chosen by the characters.
What you will see tonight then, is a single strand of a much larger web of interconnecting alternative scenes.
Each evening is intended to be complete in itself although it will, of course, be only ever one version of what might have happened if ...
I hope curiosity will bring you back to see some of the other 'ifs'.
None of the performances are random and the box office has a reasonably advanced schedule of what will be playing when.
As the summer progresses, more and more versions will be entering the repertoire and the choice will get wider. Simple mathematics will tell you that there are over 30 scenes to be staged in all and that finally there will be 16 versions, some vastly different, some only slightly so.
The chart overleaf will explain things more clearly and - if you're in any doubt-the display board in the bar will tell you what particular strand you'll be seeing or have seen tonight.
How fast the whole project comes together will depend on the reserves of stamina of all of us - in particular the brave and remarkable cast of two whom I particularly wish to thank for agreeing to take part in this piece of theatrical lunacy.
Intimate Exchanges (unknown 1986 production programme note)
Those with good theatre memories may recall a play of mine, a few years ago, entitled Sisterly Feelings. It was the tale of two sisters and depended on the toss of a coin and, subsequently, the choice that each of them made onstage during any one performance as to how the story unfolded. It was, in retrospect, a trial sprint, a mere warm-up over a few hundred metres. Intimate Exchanges, a few years on, was to be the marathon version.
In 1981, we at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round (of which I am, of course, director) had finished our Scarborough season with a trip to Houston, Texas, where we filled the Alley Theatre with several thousand gallons of relatively untroubled water and performed Way Upstream to bemused oil men. When we returned, it was with a reduced acting company of two. The rest had collapsed exhausted or wandered further south and crossed the Mexico border, not to be heard of again for several months.
This seemed the perfect time to pursue an idea that had been haunting me ever since Sisterly Feelings, namely to write a large scale multi-ended opus in which choices genuinely lead to other choices in an increasing proliferation - one, two, four, eight, sixteen and so on. It was intended not merely as a vast gimmick, but to pursue a theory that I had long held that the tiny, often careless choices we make in our lives can lead to vast consequences. In Intimate Exchanges, during the overall canon, depending on whether or not Celia Teasdale decides to have a cigarette in the first five seconds, several people are divorced, start affairs, have children together, die, and even, very occasionally, live happily ever after.
It proved a far bigger task than even I had envisaged. Originally, we had planned, the two actors - Lavinia Bertram and Robin Herford - and myself, to open all the plays over the course of the 1982 summer months. By the time we started rehearsals in May, I had three versions completed, another nearly so; there remained four alternative second halves and eight alternative final scenes still to write.
We managed, eventually, to open three versions during the course of that summer, starting with A Cricket Match; that autumn and winter came the remaining versions, finishing in February 1983 - nearly 1 year later with A Pageant. A total of some sixteen hours of dialogue, ten characters, thirty scenes, and dozens of quick changes. One fortnight, around Easter of that year, we performed the ultimate marathon - sixteen performances in twelve days which included all the possible permutations. I remain to this day awed by the patience and enthusiasm of the audience and eternally grateful to the cast.
As to whether they will all, one day, be done again - well, it will take another such group of reckless lunatics with a great deal of time and devotion on their hands ...
In the meantime, I do hope this sample tasting will both satisfy and whet the appetite for more.
Intimate Exchanges - A Brief Memory (2016 programme note)
When we first produced Intimate Exchanges in its entirety, there were so many variations to cope with that as each version opened and earlier ones re-opened, a large amount of our time was spent in doing ‘bring-back’ rehearsals. Due to the technical complexity, these took the form of full blown dress rehearsals, props wigs, make up, body padding and of course, innumerable costumes as our two actors shape-shifted between one character and the next.
On one particular such afternoon, the theatre management asked if we’d mind if a plumber made a much needed emergency repair backstage to a radiator in the wings during our dress run. Given the current North Sea temperature outside, we readily agreed, on condition that said plumber was VERY, VERY QUIET ABOUT IT!
Whilst I sat out in the auditorium, actors, stage management, technicians, (including our brilliant dresser) proceeded with the rehearsal. I must say, during all this, the plumber was VERY QUIET INDEED!
I went back to see him afterwards to thank him for his tactfully discreet plumbing. He was sitting open mouthed, tool bag untouched, radiator still unfixed.
He had been witness, poor man, to the mayhem of a full blown backstage run of one of the sixteen possible versions of Intimate Exchanges, as lusty gardeners feverishly transformed themselves into alcoholic headmasters and broad beamed, tweedy matrons shrank as if by magic into reticent village girls, shedding characters, clothing, wigs, props as they criss-crossed past him between entrances.
“What the hell was happening there?” the man asked, clearly not a regular theatre goer.
I explained to him what we’d been doing.
“You mean they were doing a show, like, at the same time? In between all that?”
I said they had been.
“Bugger me! They earn their money, don’t they?”
He’d never said a truer word.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.