David Lister: The chronicler of suburbia's dark underbelly

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The Independent Culture

The Americans have never really "got" Ayckbourn. For all that he is the most performed playwright after Shakespeare, he hasn't been seen overmuch on Broadway.

It's a little ironic that it has taken a revival of The Norman Conquests to change that. But it's not just America that is waking up a little late to the glories of Ayckbourn. He has never been given his full due, not always "got" in Britain either. His 72 plays are generally regarded as too light for serious study.

Yes Ayckbourn is par excellence the master of stagecraft, the same weekend seen from three different perspectives in The Norman Conquests, two plays interweaving in a masterclass of timing and precision in House and Garden. Yes, he is the playwright who probes the lives, and not least the marriages, of suburban England. But his humour is much darker than is often acknowledged.

The belly laughs (and there are many) are usually followed by a more nervous chuckle, which in turn can be followed by shock.

Alan Ayckbourn is ripe for discovery by America. He is also ripe for rediscovery in Britain, rediscovery as a dark, challenging satirist, who shines a torch beneath the underbelly of suburban life, and makes us blush and squirm at the results.

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