It Could Be Any One Of Us: History

It Could Be Any One Of Us continued Alan Ayckbourn’s experiments with the element of chance in theatre, which he began with Sisterly Feelings in 1979. Whilst it is not one of the playwright's most well-known pieces and is certainly a very light piece of work, it does confirm Alan’s desire to continually experiment with theatre forms.
Behind The Scene: Sight Unseen
One of the significant inspirations for It Could Be Any One Of Us was a previously announced play by Alan Ayckbourn. In 1980, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, announced the playwright's new play would be the thriller Sight Unseen. Unfortunately, as he began to write it, Alan realised he was not happy with the idea and couldn't bring it to the page. Instead he wrote Season's Greetings which kept the location of the hallway from his concept for Sight Unseen as well as most of the character's names but bore no other similarities. No details about Sight Unseen were known aside from this until 2011 when Alan Ayckbourn's archivist Simon Murgatroyd discovered two pages of hand-written notes showing early concepts for the play including the fact it had a random choice murderer, much as It Could Be Any One of Us would have in 1983.
The roots of It Could Be Any One Of Us undoubtedly lay in Alan’s childhood love of film. An ardent cinema-goer who would devour whatever was showing locally, It Could Be Any One Of Us refers back to the comedy-thrillers of his youth such as The Cat And The Canary. A later inspiration for the play emerged when Alan wrote The Story So Far… (retitled: Family Circles) in 1970, which features a husband and wife apparently trying to kill each other. In an interview, Alan said he thought “I must go back to that one of these days.” This was the opportunity. Alan’s biographer, Paul Allen, also believes Alan was inspired by the random murderer board-game Cluedo and the success of Peter Shaffer’s play Sleuth (in fact Alan was less inspired by the board game, but had been involved in an aborted attempt to have him write the screenplay for a movie adaptation of the game, which led to Alan revisiting the game itself). In fact, it was Alan's second attempt to write a thriller following his aborted play Sight Unseen in 1980.

The whodunit is given spice at the end of act 1, scene 1 in which a game of cards is played and whoever draws a certain card is the evening’s ‘murderer’. It should be noted though that in the original production there is actually no murder, which it could be argued affected the success of the play by not meeting the conventions of the genre. From the outset, it would appear Alan had doubts about the entire project as in interviews he repeatedly made the point he never actually believed you could have an entire family of potential murderers in one house: “I don’t think that, in any one room, there are necessarily four homicidal maniacs. To impute all four with homicidal motives struck me as being rather boring.” The 'murderer' having been randomly chosen, the script subtly alters to reflect the 'murderer' for each performance.
Behind The Scene: Playing Games
It is conceivable that It Could be Any One Of Us benefitted from Alan Ayckbourn's research into a possible screenplay for a movie version of the popular board-game Cluedo (Clue in the USA). In 1981, he was approached by Polygram Pictures to write a screenplay for a proposed movie of the game and entered into negotiations to write a play which would then be adapted into a film. However, the deal eventually fell-through largely due to concerns from Alan that there was no obvious way to adapt the game into a film without becoming just another period whodunit rather than something which genuinely reflected the game. A movie of the game was eventually made in 1984 - with no involvement from Alan Ayckbourn. Further details about Sight Unseen can be found in the book Unseen Ayckbourn.
The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1983 and was popular with audiences, although Alan was not satisfied with it. The critics were largely complimentary and whilst Paul Allen notes the critics “were less than ecstatic”, it was generally well-received with most of the reviews describing it as an entertaining and enjoyable evening. Only The Times gives a truly negative review - although negative reviews by The Times critic Anthony Masters were the norm during this period of Alan's writing - whilst the regional newspapers praised it.

Despite its popularity with audiences - which saw its run extended by a week at the end of the year - it did not transfer to London. The producer Michael Codron apparently considered the play, but like many people, wanted a dead body in the plot; Alan's original reasons for not including a murder can be found
here. Alan's reluctance to transfer anything directly to the West End at this stage of his career also likely played a part in the decision not to take it to London.

By 1989, Alan had withdrawn the play for production and tucked it away, noting in interviews that he hoped one day to return to it and correct its faults. This opportunity came in 1996 when the Scarborough company had just moved to its new home at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre. Alan extensively revised the play and revived it in the first summer season. This time he even provided a corpse.

The play was a success and received good reviews, whilst again being acknowledged as one of his lighter pieces. It was published in 1998 for the first time and is available for performance; since then it has proven to be a popular choice particularly with amateur dramatic groups.

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