The Guardian view on Alan Ayckbourn: a tonic for sick occasions | Editorial

The playwright Alan Ayckbourn is a standout determine in British theatre, not least as an octogenarian whose performs outnumber his years. Simply as his 86th play finishes its run at a tiny theatre close to Whitby, his 87th is about to open 20 miles alongside the Yorkshire coast in his home-from-home, Scarborough. In the meantime, down in Sussex, Chichester is warming up for a revival of his 1985 comedy Girl in Thoughts.

What higher tonic may there be on this deeply unfunny period than a night with a consummate craftsman who has spent six a long time mining laughter from private calamity. As a latest Arts Council report spells out, the humanities are certainly a tonic, with an necessary position to play within the psychological well being of the nation.

As one of many UK’s most commercially profitable theatre-makers, Ayckbourn might sound an odd determine to deal with. He isn’t cutting-edge; he’s by no means going to transform an alienated inner-city youth to the fun of theatregoing. However he’s additionally an area hero, who has earned the loyalty of his public by staying loyal to them.

In the gathering storm of shrinking incomes and ballooning overheads, he places bums on seats each in established arenas, such because the Stephen Joseph theatre, and in small makeshift venues in areas that, within the present however insufficient jargon, might properly qualify as culturally disadvantaged. Take the farming group served by the 102-seat Esk Valley theatre, which has operated from a village corridor for the final 17 years and is at present staging Ayckbourn’s All Lies, directed by the maestro himself.

Esk Valley serves a scattered, predominantly aged inhabitants, which was one of many demographics pinpointed within the Arts Council report. A way of social wellbeing was among the many key advantages recognized by a research which reported that 82% of adults felt arts engagement – whether or not watching or participating – helped them to really feel related.

In line with a time of social and financial disaster, the report takes a utilitarian line, specializing in the capability of the humanities to scale back criminality and substance abuse in economically deprived areas. That is legitimate and politic, however the cited research inform a richer story of their position in enabling individuals to “flourish” and to discover a that means in life. Theatre and museum visits make older individuals, particularly, really feel much less lonely.

Crucially, the report additionally factors out that the humanities are a “perishable commodity”. It’s no good parachuting in a single razzle-dazzle present or dance masterclass: with a purpose to fulfil their therapeutic potential, they need to be stored going, in order that the sense of wellbeing they generate is recurrently topped up. Public funding isn’t set as much as present such continuity, however the cultural economic system typically depends on the power and dedication of people, such because the husband-and-wife workforce – an actor/director and a choreographer – who run the Esk Valley theatre.

They too will want help if they’re to climate the financial storm. They might be small however, as their longstanding relationship with Ayckbourn demonstrates, they’re a precious a part of a cultural continuum, administering photographs of therapeutic laughter that inoculate individuals towards loneliness and despair.

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