Private Fears In Public Places: The Unseen Private Fears

Private Fears In Public Places was actually the title intended for a play by Alan Ayckbourn to be written in 1994. The story of the unwritten play is told below.

In 1993, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round announced the title of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play as Private Fears In Public Places. It was featured in the winter 1993 brochure and offered a hint of the play’s themes; Alan having stopped writing to the last possible deadline several years previously giving the Press & Marketing department at least some idea of what his new plays would be about.
The play was set in an airport and there had long been rumours it might have featured an escalator; Alan has frequently spoken about his desire to have a play with an escalator and had mentioned it in connection with an airport set play. Alan described the proposed play as “pretty bleak” and the brochure describes it as:

“At the airport, Jessica waves a fond farewell to he husband. Then a chance encounter changes her life. How well does she know, how far she can trust herself?”

Ironically, given the fate of the play, the memo Alan sent to the theatre’s press officer with this brochure copy also had scrawled on it: “By the time I get round to writing it, it’ll probably be about eight obstetricians trapped in a lift.”
When it comes to writing a play, Alan traditionally blocks off two weeks (slightly longer now) during which he shuts himself away to all intents and purposes and concentrates solely on writing the play with no distractions. For
Private Fears In Public Places, Alan went on holiday to write. The next thing the theatre heard was Alan calling to say there would not be a play called Private Fears In Public Places and that he was intent on writing an entirely different play.

"Basically, I had two ideas bouncing around my head. So the final piece could have emerged from either one of them. And the play I absolutely thought I would write is a rather gruelling piece set in an airport departure lounge - so that is the one which went in to the brochure. When I actually started to write the advertised play, Private Fears In Public Places, it all rather alarmingly began coming to pieces in my hands. It wasn't ready to be written. Certain parts were intact, but it was like crafting a piece of furniture without legs.”

Alan says he had two ideas in his head, neither of which resolved into a play. One of them, given the play was announced, we know. Alan has never revealed what the idea for the other play was, but in all likelihood it was what would eventually become
A Word From Our Sponsor. In the programme note for Communicating Doors, Alan mentions his new play was supposed to be Private Fears In Public Places, might have been A Word From Our Sponsor and is now Communicating Doors. Given we know Alan had two ideas it does not seem far-fetched to suggest the second idea was A Word From Our Sponsor, a play-title Alan had never mentioned publicly before. Further support for this can be found in light of an interview Alan gave in 1995 for the world premiere of A Word From Our Sponsor.

“I had the idea for Sponsor about two years ago and I played around with it for a long time. I couldn't quite make it live because it has these exotic elements.”

Whatever the second idea actually was, Alan realised he had a writing deadline and no play. On the verge of announcing a revival of one of his earlier plays, Alan had another idea which seemed to have potential. This would be the time-travelling play
Communicating Doors, which would prove to be a great success for Alan at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, in the West End and on the international stage.
As for
Private Fears In Public Places, Alan put the title away in a drawer and waited for a suitable play to come along for it, which eventually happened in 2004.
As for Jessica, presumably she’s still waiting at the airport and we will never discover what happened to her.

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

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