Whenever: BackgroundFor Christmas 2000, Alan Ayckbourn teamed up with the accomplished composer Denis King to work on their first musical together. This would be Alan’s first true musical play for young people (although The Musical Jigsaw Play featured a song and musical elements, it is not considered one of Alan Ayckbourn's musicals) and is arguably one of his finest and most well-rounded family plays.
Whenever is a time-travelling play which draws its inspiration from the likes of H G Wells, Frank L Baum, Isaac Asimov and arguably the future-changing and alternative history stories of Ray Bradbury and Philip K Dick. It is a narrative packed with ideas that challenge its intended audience and shares much in common with plays such as My Sister Sadie and Miss Yesterday in that respect.
It has been noted by a number of commentators that the narrative has a definite feel of The Wizard of Oz to it as Emily (Dorothy) goes on an adventure in order to return home and right a wrong, with her companions of Oscar Fieldman (Scarecrow), the android Ziggi (Tin-Man) and the furry beast Hoombean (Lion). The appearance of the less-than-epic Timekeeper at the end of time is also reminiscent of the unveiling of The Wizard in Oz.
The original production also made design nods to classic science-fiction in film, literature and television with references to Doctor Who, Star Wars, The Time Machine and many others.
As with all Alan’s plays with music, the songs are an integral part of the narrative and not only push the story forward but deal with some of the play and Alan’s most pertinent themes: Hailgreet deals with the familiar Ayckbourn theme of our inability to communicate and how technology is not helping this process, while The End Of Time is practically a science lesson on the Big Bang theory delivered in four minutes. The pairing of Alan and Denis would be very successful and lead to several more projects in the future, including the similarly ambitious musicals Orvin – Champion Of Champions and Awaking Beauty.
If Alan’s mantra with his plays for children in recent years had been not to patronise or underestimate them as an audience, here he brought all his experiences to bear with a play that is scary, fast-paced, demanding, funny, ominous, intelligent and witty. It is a play that can be enjoyed on many different levels and by all ages.
The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in December 2000 and was acclaimed by critics and popular with audiences. It was quickly published by Faber and has generated much interest from schools. In 2006, it was adapted for the radio and broadcast by the BBC.
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