The Jollies: BackgroundIn 2002, Alan Ayckbourn set out to write a family show for the Christmas period, inspired by the country’s growing obsession with reality television shows such as Big Brother.
The premise of the play, The Jollies, was a family living under the constant eye of the camera, who begin to realise things aren’t quite what they seem. However, despite being advertised, this play was never actually written as due to writer's block. Alan was not able to make this idea work and instead wrote a totally different play with the same title (see Behind The Scenes for further details).
The Jollies practically reads like a homage to Alan’s previous family plays. There is an over-sized dog (Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays), a time-machine (Whenever), an absent father and a young girl who must save the day (practically all of Alan’s family plays). Yet it is different in it has a free-form beginning (the magic act of Mr Magico can be lengthened or shortened as befits the ‘magical’ skills of the actor concerned) and there is an adult accompanying the children throughout the adventure, albeit in a child’s body; the latter point marking the first time an adult is able to appreciate the abilities of her children as a result of their adventures and the children better appreciating their mother - a first in an Ayckbourn family play.
Despite its initial problems, the play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in December 2002 and proved to be popular with the critics and audiences. Danny Scheinmann’s enthusiastic portrayal of Rambo the dog proving to be a particular hit with younger members of the audience but, as with the majority of Alan's plays, The Jollies demonstrates the ensemble nature of his writing with interesting roles for the entire company.
This is the second of three plays Alan has written for families concerned with time-travel and is much more the personal one. Whereas Whenever and Miss Yesterday tackle personal tragedies which have profound implications for the whole of humanity’s future, The Jollies is centred on the personal effect of the time machine / magic cabinet and how much the mother wants to recover her son and how she also deals with a traumatic change in her life. Her journey casts her children in a new light and she gains a new-found respect for them.
The Jollies was published simultaneously with the play's original production by Faber but, sadly, in common with many of Alan Ayckbourn's family plays, it is revived infrequently.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.