A Chorus of Disapproval, Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s twentieth play—and one of his most successful— premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theater in the Round in Scarborough, England, in May, 1984. Following the sell-out season in Scarborough, the play opened in a large-scale production at the National Theater in London in August, 1985. The success of the play earned Ayckbourn three major British theater awards including the London Evening Standard Award, the Olivier Award, and the Drama Award.
Ayckbourn’s first great success, Relatively Speaking, was a farce modeled on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; A Chorus of Disapproval is not modeled on, but rather is based around, another play: John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, which in the play is to be performed by a local dramatic society. The play describes the ups and downs of provincial life: as the rehearsals for The Beggar’s Opera advance, real life increasingly imitates art. As well as being a modern version of the classic ‘‘play within a play,’’ A Chorus of Disapproval also explores the attraction of the theater for ordinary people, whose apparently unremarkable lives are revealed to be unexpectedly eventful.
Ayckbourn’s contribution to the theater is impressive. Although his comedies were initially considered unfashionable, they have always been wellreceived by critics and audiences alike, all of whom have recognized Ayckbourn’s technical prowess and his unusual ability to balance comedy and pathos. A Chorus of Disapproval, which explores ordinary people’s aspirations and disappointments, confirmed that reputation. Ayckbourn was knighted in 1987 in recognition of the extraordinary quality of his writing and his contribution to the British theatre.