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.
Act I Summary
The structure of A Chorus of Disapproval exemplifies Ayckbourn’s modernity: the first scene, for instance, is chronologically the last. The play begins with the tail-end of PALOS’s performance of The Beggar’s Opera. From there, the play unfolds like a cinematic flashback. The flashback structure maintains tension throughout the lighthearted ensemble piece: the audience, certain in the knowledge that the opera will be performed successfully, nonetheless fears that calamity will unfold, for after the curtain falls, Guy is abandoned by his fellow cast members.
In the second scene of Act I, Guy auditions by giving a fumbling rendition of the only song he knows, ‘‘All Through the Night.’’ He is shown up by the director, Dafydd, who interrupts him to sing the song in Welsh. Although Guy’s singing is obviously not up to standard, Dafydd immediately accepts him, partly because he is short one actor and partly because he is a warm, generous man.
During the audition, other cast members enter. A quick scene and lighting change follows, and the cast adjourns to a local pub named The Fleece (the name of the tavern suggests that the customers will be ‘‘fleeced’’ or conned out of their money). This pub parallels Peachum’s tavern in The Beggar’s Opera: indeed, the proprietor’s daughter, Bridget, acts rather like Gay’s Lucy, fighting with customers and stealing lovers.
Following this sociable occasion, Dafydd invites Guy home. A brief scene change finds the characters in a pleasant, comfortable living room. Dafydd offers Guy the part of Crook-Fingered Jack. Although it is only a one line part, Guy is thrilled and accepts. Then Dafydd’s neglected wife, Hannah, enters. She is to play Polly Peachum in the Opera. Hannah has suffered in the shadow of her talkative and unobservant husband. Hannah and Guy connect emotionally—he is polite and attentive, which she appreciates, and she is sensitive about his recent loss, which he appreciates.
Another scene change finds PALOS again rehearsing. For all his enthusiasm, Dafydd is a disorganized director: the cast has only rehearsed the first fifteen pages of the script. Amidst the confusion, Guy receives an alluring invitation to dinner from the lascivious Fay, seconded by...
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