If I Were You: History

In January 2006, Alan Ayckbourn completed his 70th play If I Were You. At the time, Alan had no immediate intent to stage the play as he was committed to directing Intimate Exchanges in its entirety for a year-long initiative at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Given that Alan also intended to direct a revival of Woman In Mind in autumn 2006 while Intimate Exchanges went on a short tour, it seems unlikely the play would have been produced that year.
Behind the Scenes: Early Concept
One of the earliest concepts for If I Were You was a play on a larger scale with more characters and locations. The plot featured three more characters and a hotel foyer as part of the composite set. The plot remained virtually identical but by the time of the final draft, the emphasis was placed completely on the family and had eliminated any extraneous elements.
However on Tuesday 21 February 2006 (a week before it was reported in the press), Alan Ayckbourn had a stroke and was advised it would be at least six months before he could work again. Intimate Exchanges was passed to the director Tim Luscombe and the plans for Woman In Mind were dropped (it would eventually be revived by Alan Ayckbourn at the SJT during 2008).

Alan would later reveal (during a post-show discussion for
If I Were You at the Stephen Joseph Theatre) that while in hospital recovering from the stroke, his mind returned to his latest play and he decided it should be scheduled for production in the autumn (in the now vacant Woman In Mind slot) to give him a goal to aim for. In June, staff at the Stephen Joseph Theatre were informed Alan would be returning in September to direct his new play If I Were You and would be co-directing Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays with Andrew Panton for Christmas.

Rehearsals for
If I Were You took place in the rehearsal studio at Alan’s home, as he continued his recovery; setting the precedent for all future productions of Alan's work. A largely familiar cast was brought together including the well-known actress Liza Goddard (who Alan had previously worked with on the 2004 tour of Season’s Greetings) as well as John Branwell and Saskia Butler. A slightly longer rehearsal period of five weeks was also arranged because of the circumstances surrounding the play.
Behind the Scenes: I To I
If I Were You was originally called I To I and the earliest surviving draft of the play has this title. The playwright then altered it for the final draft. It then briefly reverted back to I To I for a week in June 2006, before returning to If I Were You for its official announcement in July 2006.
If I Were You premiered in October at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was a big hit with audiences and the critics. It embarked on an end-stage tour in early 2007; during the tour John Branwell fell ill and Terence Booth had to step into the role of Mal at a day's notice. Terence played the role for three weeks before John returned to the role. The tour also notably marked the first time the actor Richard Stacey worked with Alan Ayckbourn; since then Richard has appeared in numerous Ayckbourn productions including the world premieres of Life & Beth, Arrivals & Departures & Hero's Welcome.

If Alan's previous play
Improbable Fiction had begun the trend of the family plays inspiring the adult plays (as opposed to vice versa), If I Were You arguably continues this, taking its inspiration from The Jollies. Within that play, a young boy is transported into an adult's body and his mother into a young girl's body. Both plays deal with the repercussions of such body-swapping and the adjustments and insights each person has to deal with.

The play is also a natural and logical continuation of his previous body-swapping plays:
Henceforward... (1987) features a malleable android that at the end of the Act I was altered to resemble a woman previously seen in the play; Body Language features two women swapping bodies after a helicopter accident sees their heads stitched onto the wrong bodies; The Jollies deals with a boy who finds himself in an adult's body and an adult in a young girl's body. Having exhausted the same sex possibilities of body-swapping, If I Were moves the theme forward with a man and a woman swapping bodies.

If I Were You was published in 2011 by Samuel French in an acting edition as well as part of Faber's collection Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5. In 2010, the play also had two major revivals with a production at The Mill At Sonning as well as a separate UK tour produced by Bill Kenwright; the latter with Liza Goddard reprising her role as Jill.

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