Neighbourhood Watch: Background

Neighbourhood Watch is Alan Ayckbourn's 75th play and was commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2010. Alan began writing the play in October 2010 and finished it during the first week of November.

Alan Ayckbourn has noted that when he was commissioned to write the play, it was for more of an event piece and substantially larger in scale to mark the fact this would be his 75th full-length play. However, with the implication in 2010 that major cuts in arts funding in the UK were looming, Alan apparently approached the Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Chris Monks, to suggest a play on a smaller scale.

The play was thus built around a cast of eight as the Stephen Joseph Theatre had decided to stage
Neighbourhood Watch in repertory with the world premiere of Dear Uncle, Alan's adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, with both plays sharing the same company of eight actors. This marked the first time there was a specific Ayckbourn company at the venue since Chris Monks had become Artistic Director in 2009; in 2009 and 2010, both he and Alan had shared companies for the summer repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre - occasionally with mixed results for both directors.

Once written, Alan felt the play was one of his darker pieces in tone and that it reflected his perceived apprehension in society about the possible breakdown of law and order. It was not inspired by a specific event, but it would soon be associated with one and perceived to be unintentionally - and perhaps alarmingly - prescient.

In August 2011 - during rehearsals for the play - four days of
rioting hit many of the UK's major cities; the surprise and shocking events marked one of the largest civil disturbances in recent memory in the UK. The pertinency of the play, opening so soon after the riots and with its coincidental theme, was swiftly picked up and covered by the media; although Alan was quick to point out it would be disingenuous to suggest the play was in any way inspired or influenced by real events given it was written nine months before the riots took place.

Neighbourhood Watch opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 8 September 2011 with the press night on 13 September. The production marked not only the world premiere of the 75th full length play by Alan Ayckbourn, but also the 300th new play commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre since it had opened in 1955.

The play was received with uniformly excellent reviews. Even the one dissenting voice, Sam Marlowe of The Times, largely praised the production (The Times lead critic Libby Purves would later praise the play when it reached London). The prescience of Alan's subject was generally noted alongside the excellence of his acting company, with several critics writing the play marked a return to some of Alan's blackest comedy.

Meanwhile on 12 July 2011, Chris Monks announced in an interview with the
BBC that Neighbourhood Watch would also tour to New York, where it would be the third of Alan Ayckbourn's play to receive its American premiere at the Brits Off Broadway festival at the 59E59 Theaters (and the fourth Ayckbourn play to be presented by Alan at the festival). This would mark the quickest transfer of an Ayckbourn play to New York following its world premiere.

Following a short in-the-round tour,
Neighbourhood Watch transferred to the 59E59 Theaters, New York, on 30 November 2011 as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival, running until 1 January. The play was well-received, although not as critically successful as his previous plays presented at the festival. On 24 November 2011, it was announced the play's 2012 UK tour would conclude with a month long residency at the Tricycle Theatre in London.

Neighbourhood Watch opened at the Tricycle Theatre on 11 April 2012 - not long after the venue's acclaimed production of Gillian Slovo's play The Riots, which examined the 2011 riots from the perspective of first hand reportage. Significantly, this marked the first time since Private Fears In Public Places in 2005 that a new Alan Ayckbourn play had transferred to London. Whilst in London, the world premiere production reached its 200th production on 25 April 2012; a rarity in that figure was reached with the same company which launched the play eight months earlier. The production was again well-received and ended a remarkable year for Alan's 75th play.

Neighbourhood Watch was published in 2013 by Samuel French when it was also made available for amateur and professional performance.

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