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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 11:45 GMT
Ayckbourn play opens new theatre
Alan Ayckbourn
Ayckbourn: Based at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre
A new Alan Ayckbourn play is to open Durham's Gala Theatre complex on Tuesday - the largest provincial venue to open in the UK in a decade.

The first work to be performed there will be Game Plan, part of Ayckbourn's new trilogy Damsels in Distress.

The veteran playwright told BBC Breakfast of his excitement at opening the complex.

"I've had one or two experiences of opening theatres in my long career, but it's never anything less then thrilling when you're the first people to switch the lights on, step on the stage."

Game Plan in rehearsal
Game Plan is the first of a trilogy of plays
Ayckbourn, one of Britain's most successful and prolific dramatists, had his first play produced in 1959 and has been writing ever since.

He normally opens his new work at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where he has been artistic director since 1970.

But now Durham - which has not had a professional theatre for 50 years - will enjoy the excitement of an Ayckbourn première, directed by the playwright himself.

Gala Theatre
The Gala has state-of-the-art facilities
The new theatre will also host live music events and exhibitions.

Rob Flower, the Gala Theatre manager, told the BBC the establishment of a theatre was "long overdue" for "a city with the heritage and the culture that Durham has".

Ayckbourn, whose plays have been translated in to 35 languages, is in high demand elsewhere.

Before the gala's opening night he is fitting in a trip to Hamburg to lecture on Englishness in drama.

But the playwright professes to baffled by the international success of his plays.

Gala workman
Workmen are frantically readying the theatre for Tuesday
"I'm completely mystified as to why, they seem to me to be essentially English but maybe they're not, maybe they're more international than I think," he said.

And, although he turns 63 this year, there is no sign of any let-up in Ayckbourn's creative flow.

"I've just written a new one called Snake in The Grass, which is a thriller," he told BBC Breakfast.

"If you're not making an audience laugh, I like to scare the hell out of them - and this is a scary one.

"We'll be doing that next summer in Scarborough, and, who knows, bringing it to Durham."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Wells
"Durham has not had a professional theatre for 50 years"
See also:

09 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Two sides to Ayckbourn story
26 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Connecting with Arthur Miller
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