Consuming Passions: History

Consuming Passions is Alan Ayckbourn's 80th play and premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 12 August 2016.

Consuming Plays was conceived as a single play in two short parts - with each part having its own name - which could be performed separately (see Notes on the Original Production below). However, Consuming Passions is now considered to be a two-act play - and works best when performed as such - and, ideally, should be performed as such.
Behind The Scenes: 80th Play Or Not?
When Consuming Passions was announced by the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2016, it was not advertised as Alan Ayckbourn's 80th full-length play, but rather as two connected lunchtime one act plays in the theatre restaurant.
However, when - later in the season - the play was scheduled to run as a whole in the McCarthy auditorium, Alan announced it was, in fact, his 80th full-length play. The reason he had not initially announced this was he felt if he had labelled it as such, the theatre would have promoted the 80th angle, which he disliked as he is not keen on the desire to number his works.
As a result,
Consuming Passions is not two connected one act plays, but his 80th full-length play.
It is an unusual addition to the Ayckbourn play canon for several reasons. It is the first Ayckbourn play to have two named parts to it with Premonitions (part / act I) and Repercussions (part / act II) with the closest equivalent being the eight named variations of Intimate Exchanges). Despite this - and the fact initially they were performed separately, the playwright considers they are two parts of one play (much like The Revengers' Comedies Parts I & II). Consuming Passions is written so that in order for them to make sense, both parts have to be seen in the correct order; again, this is the equivalent of seeing The Revengers' Comedies Parts I & II.

It is also one of the few Ayckbourn plays which was not written with theatre-in-the-round specifically in mind. Indeed, its original production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre saw it produced both the open, end-on space of the venue's restaurant as well as the theatre's end-stage space, The McCarthy. It is actually ideally suited to a restaurant / bistro type space for which it was initially conceived.

Commissioned by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the play was initially intended to run in tandem with a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's
Things We Do For Love at the venue. However, as the schedule changed, the revival became Henceforward… and Consuming Passions was joined by another new Ayckbourn work, The Karaoke Theatre Company for the summer's repertory season.

Consuming Passions played in repertory with The Karaoke Theatre Company with four of the latter's company performing in the play. Throughout the season every member of the Ayckbourn company (nine actors) appeared in two Ayckbourn productions (of the five performers in The Karaoke Theatre Company, four appeared in Consuming Passions with one moving on to Henceforward…. The other four actors in Henceforward… performing in another new piece No Knowing).

Although written as and considered a single play, Alan devised
Consuming Passions so it could be performed in two parts during lunchtimes as the SJT in the Bistro space (see below) and only later in the season could the play be seen in one sitting. There is no doubt it is best performed as a cohesive single piece though.

It was only after the play had opened that the playwright confirmed this was officially his 80th full-length play (see right). Running at just short of an hour and twenty minutes including interval, it is also the shortest of Alan's full-length works.

Consuming Passions is described by the author as a 'Hitchcockian thriller' and it returns top a favourite theme of whether we can trust all we see before us. Much like Woman In Mind, the protagonist of Consuming Passions - Melanie - is not a reliable narrator and the audience has to decide what they are seeing. Is Melanie seeing the future or is it all a product of her own troubled mind? The playwright's own view of what is happening can be found on the FAQs page.

Samuel French published
Consuming Passions during 2020 and the play is now available for both professional and amateur performance.

Notes on the Original production

The original production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2016 was unusual in that Consuming Passions was presented both as a complete play later in the summer season, but initially as two connected one act plays. The impetus behind this was Alan's desire to encourage the SJT to revive the shorter lunch-time play slot in the restaurant which had essentially been abandoned by the then Artistic Director, Chris Monks, following Alan's retirement in 2009. By writing a play which could be presented over two lunchtimes, Alan hoped to kickstart the SJT into considering presenting more lunchtime shows in the more informal restaurant space.

As a result, it was initially possible to see
Consuming Passions over two lunchtimes. It also meant you could see either part without the other or both parts in the wrong order. This was, arguably, a flaw in the scheduling as - seen separately - the plays are not terribly satisfying and if seen in the wrong order, make little sense at all.

Later in the summer season, the two parts were reunited into one part and offered in the end-stage McCarthy auditorium as a single evening's entertainment. This meant audiences were able to see it as a coherent whole for the first time and to appreciate that it was not really a play in two parts, just a two act play!

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.