Alan Ayckbourn’s "Season’s Greetings" in the Comic Tradition

An Investigation of Ayckbourn’s Use of the Comic in the Historical Context of the New Drama

Term Paper 2007 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings in the Comic Tradition
2.1. Season’s Greetings within the Historical Context of the New Drama
2.2. The Tradition of Comedy and Farce
2.3. Ayckbourn’s Use of the Comic in Season’s Greetings

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This term paper deals with the placement of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings in the English comic tradition. Therefore, I will first put Ayckbourn’s play within the historical context of the new drama, and subsequently define the terms “comedy” and “farce”. Then, I will prove my thesis that Season’s Greetings matches both conventionality and innovation with regard to comedy. In this way, I will also investigate in how far Season’s Greetings as comedy contains both farcical and tragic elements, and suits other subgenres of comedy, too. Likewise, I will analyse how Ayckbourn makes use of the comic in Season’s Greetings, and discuss if he continues the comic tradition with a new emphasis with regard to the assumption that he, like Shakespeare, writes plays for the spectator rather than the reader, among other things. In the conclusion, I will recap and reconsider the principal theses of my term paper and give my own diagnosis about Ayckbourn’s drama. My thesis matters in so far that “the continuing life that […] comedies have […] justifies our study of the genre […]”.1 Besides, English comedy has “the longest, most continuous generic tradition in Western literature”,2 in which its tendency to the meta-theatrical achieves an awareness of the comic tradition onstage (cf. Leggatt 2). Anyway, it is meaningful that serious issues of everyday life are treated in a comic way.

Accordingly, I will give a brief biographical sketch about Ayckbourn’s life and some basic information about Season’s Greetings. Ayckbourn, who was born in Hampstead, in 1939, is regarded as one of England’s most significant post-modern dramatists, who describes himself as a playwright once a year, for he primarily works as director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, in Scarborough.3 In 1956, after secondary school, Ayckbourn worked with one of his major influences, Stephen Joseph, in Scarborough. His first marriage earned him two sons but was divorced shortly afterwards. Ayckbourn became famous with Relatively Speaking in 1967. He became director of productions at the Scarborough Theatre-in-the- Round, in 1970, and received numerous awards. In 1997, he married Heather Stoney and was honoured the title “Sir Alan Ayckbourn”. Ayckbourn is prominent for many plays like Just Between Ourselves (1976), and A Chorus of Disapproval (1984), for example.4

Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings, a comedy in two acts, was first produced at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, in 1980, published in 1982, revived several times, and appeared on television.5 It takes place on Christmas in the English middle-class home of the Bunkers and primarily deals with domestic quarrels, which culminate in several climaxes. Thus, it is about “[…] the usual family reunion gone wrong.”6 Like Joking Apart (1978), Season’s Greetings studies both winners and losers (cf. Page, ed. Berney 28), and, like Absurd Person Singular (1972), comically depicts the follies of the Christmas experience (cf. 30). Since Ayckbourn admits that “[… his] plays are best appreciated if you’ve had at least one unhappy marriage or […] relationship [… sic]”,7 his biggest recurring theme, marriage and its miseries, matches Season’s Greetings.

2. Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings in the Comic Tradition

First, this part will place Season’s Greetings within the historical context of the new drama, and secondly, both terms “comedy” and “farce” will be defined. Finally, I will investigate Season’s Greetings in terms of comedy and its subgenres, as well as Ayckbourn’s use of the comic in Season’s Greetings within the English comic tradition.

2.1. Season’s Greetings within the Historical Context of the New Drama

In the 1950s, England’s society experienced economic decline, literary stagnation, and social discrepancies in a general post-war atmosphere.8 However, social reforms bettered the situation, in which literary revolution started with the emergence of the new drama with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, in 1956, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1955).9 While the founder of angry drama displayed radically new themes in Anger (cf. Billington ix; Hunt et al. 238), Jimmy Porter’s diction initialized the revolution of dramatic language.10 Delicate subjects like marriage, sexuality, crime, which also reappear in Season’s Greetings, and war were increasingly central to the new drama (cf. Plett 19, 32-35). Beckett wrote within the nonsense tradition of the Theatre of the Absurd, which is characterized by offstage action, claustrophobic stage conceptions, and alienation effects,11 mainly treats issues like the absurdity and dilemma of the human situation, and influenced Season’s Greetings because of its absurd situations (cf. Hunt et al. 243).

Furthermore, British theatre became increasingly familiar with audiovisual effects. Accordingly, Wesker’s notion that “the theatre is a place where one wants to see things happening”12 suits Ayckbourn’s highlighting of technical effects in Season’s Greetings. Since television and radio plays produced unfamiliar forms of drama which were easily available, drama was pushed in a more cinematic direction, and many dramatists wrote occasionally for the media.13

In addition, a second wave of new dramatists has appeared from the 1970s on, a period which is marked by general pessimism because of political discrepancies. Consequently, English drama, in the 1970s and 1980s, was full of pessimism like Stephen Poliakoff’s Strawberry Fields, for example (cf. Cornish xvii, vii). Political dramatists like John Arden, Edward Bond, and Caryl Churchill were in their heyday and revived the medieval theatre’s aim to better the world by increasingly representing the nation (cf. Elisabeth Angel-Perez, ed. Boireau 16, 24-25, 28). However, Ayckbourn “[…] steers resolutely clear of overt political references in [his] work [… sic].”14

In conclusion, the English playwrights of this period share a number of characteristics such as the abandonment of the three-act structure, the trend toward free styles and flexible dramatic structures, as well as theatrical experimentation (cf. Cornish xxiii). Post-modern drama revived the English stage by renouncing literary conventions (cf. Hunt et al. 249), and obtaining artistic freedom such as drama as a theme and the play-within-the-play (cf. Boireau xii, xiii), which was first conceivable with the loss of censorship in 1968 (cf. Plett 19-20). After all, Season’s Greetings can be placed within the second wave of post-modern drama, when Ayckbourn himself was just about to emerge as a non-political dramatist in an era of predominantly political writing.


1 Alexander Leggatt, English Stage Comedy 1490 – 1990, Five Centuries of a Genre (London, New York: Routledge, 1998) 3.

2 Leggatt 1.

3 cf. Malcolm Page, Contemporary English Dramatists, by K.A. Berney and N.G. Templeton, eds. (Detroit, London, Washington DC: Gale Research International, St. James P, 1994) 30.

4 Michael Holt, Alan Ayckbourn, Writers and Their Work, eds. Isobel Armstrong, Bryan Loughrey (Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers, 1999) ix-x; 65-66.

5 cf. Malcolm Page, File on Ayckbourn, eds. Simon Trussler, Malcolm Page (London: Methuen Drama, 1989) 59.

6 Page,ed. Trussler 61.

7 cf. Page, ed. Trussler 89.

8 cf. Michael Billington, Introduction, Contemporary English Dramatists, by K.A. Berney and N.G. Templeton, eds., xii.

9 cf. Hugh Hunt, Kenneth Richards, and John Russel Taylor, The Revels History of Drama in English, 1880 to the Present Day, ed. T.W. Craik, Vol. 7 (London: Methuen; N.Y.: Noble Books, 1978) 224, 235. cf. Hersh Zeifman and Cynthia Zimmerman, eds. Contemporary British Drama 1970-90 (Buffalo, Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993) 1.

10 cf. Heinrich F. Plett, Englisches Drama von Beckett bis Bond (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1982) 30.

11 cf. Nicole Boireau, ed., et al., Drama on Drama, Dimensions of Theatricality on the Contemporary British Stage (Basingstoke, Hampshire, Houndmills, London: Macmillan P, 1997) 20. cf. Hunt et al. 243. cf. “theatre of the absurd.” J. A. Cuddon, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (London: Penguin Books, 1999) 910-912. Hunt 232.

12 Hunt et al. 242.

13 cf. Roger Cornish and Violet Ketels, Introduction, Landmarks of Modern British Drama, The Plays of the Seventies, by Alan Ackbourn et al. (London, N.Y.: Methuen, 1986) xxiii, xxv. cf. Hunt et al. 249, 254-256. cf. Plett 22-23.

14 Cornish and Ketels xii.


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Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings Comic Tradition British Drama Present



Title: Alan Ayckbourn’s "Season’s Greetings" in the Comic Tradition