Constant Companions: History

Constant Companions is Alan Ayckbourn's 89th produced full-length play, written during the summer of 2022 and premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 12 September 2023.
Behind The Scenes: Surprised?
The sharp-eyed Ayckbourn fan might spot a connection between Constant Companions and Surprises (2012). The latter was not a play the playwright was happy with - with the exception of the second act and its story of a love story between the android JAN60 and Lorraine. Alan took this dialogue, refined it and expanded the story and interwove it into Constant Companions. That he was successful is reflected by the fact how few people realised the connection between the plays.
The play is the second Ayckbourn world premiere in 2023 following Welcome to the Family, which premiered at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, during May. Both plays are speculative fiction, set in a nearby future, but are otherwise unconnected.

Constant Companions is connected to other Ayckbourn plays. It develops themes seen in his 'android' previous plays, Henceforward… and Comic Potential - including an Easter Egg from the latter with androids being thrown out of restaurants in both plays by android waiters. It's themes of synthetic life, artificial intelligence, what it is to be human and what makes us human are all themes which recur in all three plays.

A significant inspiration for
Constant Companions was also the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, and an interview Alan heard during lockdown. Within the interview, Rees was asked if he believed there was life on other worlds. His response was it was all but inevitable given the vastness of space, but - and what struck Alan - was his belief humanity would not survive long enough to encounter these species, but the artificial life we create might.

The play's themes of artificial intelligence and our relationship with it became even more pertinent as, prior to the play's opening, there was a huge media focus on the development of AI, particularly in light of advances epitomised by the ChatbotGPT and other AI developments which came to the fore in the early months of 2023. As has previously been the case with Alan's writing apparently capturing the zeitgeist, it's worth noting he wrote
Constant Companions during the summer of 2022, months before the subject was trending and gaining headlines.
Behind The Scenes: Time Lag
In an unusual occurrence for the SJT, Constant Companions production dates actually changed after they had been announced. The play was originally announced on 31 October 2022 with performance dates of 1 - 30 September 2023. Two weeks later, the dates changed to 7 September to 7 October. There was no major issue just a mix of summer holiday and tour dates, but - historically - it was an unusual alteration for the coastal theatre.
Alan has spoken in recent years how music is very important to his writing process and is often a key inspirational material. For Constant Companions, it was especially significant as Alan was looking for music he thought androids might listen to. He found his answer in the 'chamber music rock group' ORBI (the Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments) from the Netherlands. The music played a key role in inspiring his writing and is featured prominently with the ORIBI track Proclamation playing between each of the play's 23 scenes.

Interestingly for a play which deals with artificial intelligence and our relationship with it, it premiered 25 years after the world premiere of Alan's most famous and acclaimed play about androids and AI,
Comic Potential.

The world premiere production was unusual in that its cast was completely comprised of actors Alan had worked with previously; traditionally Alan brings in at least one actor he has never worked with before into each production. The company included Georgia Burnell, Andy Cryer, Tanya-Loretta Dee, Alexandra Mathie, Naomi Petersen, Leigh Symonds and Richard Stacey, who reprised his role of JAN60 from the 2012 production of
Surprises (see right).

Constant Companions opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre win 7 September 2023 and drew 4 star reviews from The Guardian and the Daily Mail and was very well received by audiences. It then toured to the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere, and the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Constant Companions is expected to be published during 2024 or 2025, when it will also become available for production.

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