This Is Where We Came In: World Premiere ReviewsThe reviews featured on this page are drawn from the 1990 world premiere production and the 1991 revival of the play; the latter marking the first time the play was performed as a single rather than two-part production).
This Is Where We Came In (by Robin Thornber)
"The world premiere of a new play by Alan Ayckbourn sneaks into the repertory at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough almost unnoticed by the national media; partly because it's a kids' show and partly because it comes in two parts, introduced on separate Saturdays.
But while I doubt that any commercial management will pick it up and take it to the West End in some star-studded travesty of the original, This Is Where We Came In is not an insignificant piece of theatre. In spite of its short shelf-life, the product is superb.
They say it's for four-year-olds upwards and on two consecutive Saturday mornings I watched entranced tots gripped by what is in fact a multi-layered debate about actors' versus directors' theatre.
The basic storyline concerns a struggle between the Storytellers - three aged custodians of our literary heritage who spin yarns from their seats in the aisles of the auditorium - and the Storyplayers, the performers who must act out their narratives like manipulated marionettes, unable to question their roles.
From this framework we dip into a selection of traditional tales like Hansel and Gretel (in part one) and in part two an original fairy story in which a farming family plagued by flood and drought compromise with a wicked witch who has an eye on their sturdy sons.
Levels switch throughout as the players try to assert themselves against the the dominant but often incompetent Storytellers - Great Aunt Repetitus, Uncle Erraticus and Uncle Oblivious. And the kids in the audience adapt with amazing alacrity and aplomb to these deconstructions.
They may not realise that they're watching a Brechtian demystification of theatrical illusion as the players pull their role-conferring hats from their prop bags; they might think it's just a jolly good yarn with some surprising twists.
But it's an intellectual doodle that contains spell-binding playing from Danny McGrath, Clare Clifford, Cecily Hobbs and Robert McCulley as well as wicked theatrical pyrotechnics such as Gordon Reid's trouser; catching fire in frustration.
It's not just a cloudy morning's alternative to the beach, it's also a spectacular act of faith in which writer-director Ayckbourn passes the palm to his untiring players. In a carefully controlled way, of course."
(The Guardian, 14 August 1990)
A Lit Crit Hit (by Michael Schmidt)
"Uncles Erraticus and Oblivious and bossy Great Aunt Repetitus, the dusty, black-clad story-tellers in Alan Ayckbourn's This Is Where We Came In at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, are ancient and weary. The characters in their stories, long to be free of conventional roles, at last able to exist outside the plot as people. This is the story of their rebellion.
Each story-teller has a go: the tale of Hansel and Gretel is followed by that of The Princess and the Frog. The characters are getting restive, so Great Aunt decides to settle them once and for all after the interval with an original story which involves a beguilingly seductive and lustful 450 year-old witch and two young peasants who catch her eye. Floods, droughts and other natural disasters accompany her cruel, hilarious courtship.
Great Aunt almost manages to bring the characters to heel, but not quite: at the end there is a splendid coup de theatre.
Ayckbourn's Christmas bagatelle is, as one would expect, more than a bagatelle, and while the youngsters in the audience are mesmerised by the strange twists in familiar stories, adults are teased not only by the witty parody of the acting but also by Ayckbourn's brilliant satire on dramatic art, on the unreliability of story-tellers and the resilience of character over plot. With wry discipline the play celebrates artistic anarchy, ruptures in convention, the rejuvenation of form.
This is the territory of experimental fiction, where Literary Theory confronts and vanquishes traditional Literary Art - the sort of thing you expect from Fowles, Burgess, or the French. What on earth is Ayckbourn doing here? He is having fun, and giving fun, at the expense of the playwright. He is also, I think, parodying the extravagances of fashionable literary theory. No adult, with or without children, who lives within striking distance should miss it."
(Daily Telegraph, 3 December 1991)
Fairy Quite Contrary (by Kevin Berry)
"A play written by Alan Ayckbourn and originally scheduled for just six performances? Hard to believe but This Is Where We Came In was intended to fill the summer holiday Saturday morning slot in 1990. The audiences absolutely loved it, the actors were equally enthusiastic and the critics were full of praise. It just had to be revived and now there is a full four week season.
The prolific Mr Ayckbourn has written a superb play for all the family, simple and yet sophisticated enough to appeal to all ages. He calls it "The World's First Circular Adventurous Comical Mystery Play". Fond of taking theatrical risks he challenges the imagination with little in the way of props and no scenery.
A group of story players appear with their prop boxes, take out hats and wait for the three powerful story tellers - appropriately named Aunt Repetitious, Uncle Oblivious and Uncle Erraticus. The players then perform delightfully comic, twisted and often absurd versions of well-known fairy tales. Gretel becomes a boy, his woodcutter father a plumber, and a princess loses her golden ball down the well because she has not paid attention to her father's cricket coaching!
The players themselves are trapped, their every action and thought determined by the all powerful story tellers. Then Flavius, one of the story-players, decides to make a bid for freedom and become a story teller himself. There is a lovely moment when he wonders, since he is a story character himself, if his revolutionary thoughts have in turn been written by the story tellers."
(Times Educational Supplement, 4 December 1991)
This Is Where We Came In (by David Jeffels)
"Alan Ayckbourn, now nudging towards his 50th play, has pulled together all his skills in this masterpiece.
It is a brilliant piece of theatre, combining a touch of the classic Ayckbourn black humour with traditional farce and some superb effects.
The play, which had its world premiere in Scarborough, is aimed primarily at children but is equally entertaining for adults. If you don't have a child to take, still go.
Ayckbourn watched as his audiences of tomorrow sat absorbed while he stretched their imaginations with improvisation.
He uses his actors as story-players with three delightful old characters - Uncle Erraticus, Uncle Oblivious and Great Aunt Repetitus - as the story-tellers.
But to hold the attention of the children he adopts a technique used in so many of his big hits - such as The Norman Conquests and Sisterly Feelings - that of switching the stories to create completely new plays.
The story-players, in different roles, weave their way through the ingredients of fairy tales and pantomime - witches, wicked stepmothers, and forlorn children - yet at the same time introduce modern comedy."
(Yorkshire Post, 2 December 1991)
A Masterful Fairytale
"Children sat in rapt attention - rooted to their seats - as stories of witches, princes and heroes unfolded before them.
Their parents were also enthralled by this production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round.
Scarborough's master storyteller Alan Ayckbourn wove his own spell as he thrilled the audience with a repeat showing of his childrens' play This Is Where We Came In.
The play, a sophisticated piece of drama, works on several levels. A series of fairy stories are told by a trio of ruling storytellers. The actors are their slaves.
But one, called Flavius, defies them. In the end he leads his fellow players against them in a gripping, heroic ending. This plot appealed to the adults while the kids became entranced in the quick-fire humour, fast pace, fun, and sheer wickedness of the enchanting tales.
The action is enhanced by original sound effects and clever lighting.
The youngsters loved every minute and I am sure they would have happily stayed to see it all again."
(Scarborough Evening News, December 1991)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.