It Could Be Any One Of Us: Background

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.

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 (see Behind The Scenes).

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.

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 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.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.