Playwright to give punters a run for their money

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The Independent Online

The National Theatre is to present two linked Alan Ayckbourn plays this summer with the same cast, but in two auditoriums at the same time. Actors will run along corridors and up and down a flight of stairs from one theatre to another to make their exits and entrances.

The plays, House and Garden, will star Jane Asher and David Haig. Sir Alan has written special stage directions for the cast on how to use up time by fiddling with a phone or other stage business, in case a breathless performer fails to make an entrance on cue.

The scenario will use the Olivier and Lyttelton theatres at the National's building on the South Bank in London. Sir Alan insisted the plays must be staged simultaneously. He said yesterday he had the idea to make theatre more of an event.

"I've become worried that theatre tends to get downgraded these days. Everybody talks about movies. The water can look a bit becalmed to the punters. So I thought let's do something that says, 'Oy, we're here. Let's do something different'.

"I got a fit stage manager to run up the stairs at the National and time the distance between the theatres. It was about one minute 28. The actors found it all a bit hard to get their heads round when I first told them. Actors are used to coming on stage and working an audience. But in this suddenly they are in a different theatre halfway-through with a new audience. And they might be a star in one play and a walk-on in the other. So concepts about acting and starring have to be rethought."

A National Theatre spokeswoman said: "This is unprecedented for any London theatre. The plays were put on in Scarborough, but the distance between the two auditoria there is much closer than here at the National. It's a big challenge for the actors. And the curtain call will be hairy."

House/Garden, which open in August, are set in the house and garden of the Platt estate on the day of the annual village fête. Each play can be seen singly, but the National is recommending ticket buyers to watch both sides of the story for maximum effect.

In House, Teddy Platt (David Haig), host of the fête and womanising lord of the manor, dreams of a bright political future as the new MP. His long- suffering wife Trish (Jane Asher) denies his existence, and his best friend has found who is Teddy's latest mistress.

In Garden, there are frenzied preparations for the fête. Will the famed French celebrity arrive in time to open it? Will the young maypole dancers pull it off? Is someone sinister lurking in the bushes and what exactly is happening in thefortune-teller's tent? Sir Alan will direct both plays.