On the boardwalk of fame

Alan Ayckbourn damns celebrity obsession in Drowning on Dry Land

Could it be that Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who has made his name chronicling and dramatising the social mores and human foibles of contemporary Britain, has fallen prey to the lure of celebrity culture? His atest, and 66th play, Drowning on Dry Land, takes obsession with fame as its subject matter. It opened at Ayckbourn's artistic home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, last year. A restaged version will tour six regional venues, beginning at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on 19 January.

The play centres on the rise and fall of Charlie Conrad, a character Ayckbourn describes as "the ultimate modern celebrity, in that he has never actually managed to do anything. I was partly amused, partly fascinated by the way so many people seem to be scrambling to become celebrities based on very little ability".

He was partly inspired by an incident captured in Piers Morgan's 2003 television documentary The Importance of Being Famous, in which a young girl jumped up and down in a field in front of a camera for several minutes before asking: "Am I famous yet?" Her words led Ayckbourn to realise the unexceptional nature of today's fame.

The play combines Ayckbourn's trademark wry comic outlook with a warning of the darker trappings of fame. It is not only Charlie, the talentless star who comes under fire, but those people who surround him - the agents, and PR and media people who promote him and eventually destroy him. "The worst thing that can happen to you is to believe your own publicity and what people (particularly your press agent) say about you," Ayckbourn says. "One must resist because that way madness lies."

Ayckbourn has moved away from his traditional settings of a garden or a living room and has set the play in a Victorian folly located in the grounds of Charlie's Home Counties family mansion. The folly underlines the idea that in Charlie's world, all is surface and nothing is quite what it seems.

Unlike the protagonist of his play, Ayckbourn has enjoyed enduring success in his chosen profession. But, even after 66 plays, the process of inspiration does not get any easier. "The first spark that sets everything off is the only thing that you can't control," he says. "Every time I finish a play, I sit there feeling empty like a large cupboard that's just been cleaned out and hopefully wait for a new idea to arrive. I never know whether there is another play in me."

Ayckbourn is aware of the contemporary appeal of his new play and has enjoyed the positive audience reaction so far. "People have been sitting there quietly steaming in their armchairs about the hype that has gone on," he says. "There's a whole list of 'celebrities' and you have to search in vain for what they have actually done. It's good fun until it runs into real talent." In Ayckbourn, reality television stars and It-girls may have finally met their match.

'Drowning on Dry Land', Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (01483 440000) 19 January to 29 January, then touring to 5 March

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor