Sugar Daddies: Background

Sugar Daddies is Alan Ayckbourn’s 63rd play and in tone feels like a companion piece to his Damsels In Distress trilogy from 2001, dealing as it does with a young woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation.

Damsels In Distress trilogy and Sugar Daddies are also linked by the actress Alison Pargeter. Alison had received acclaim for her roles in the trilogy and here Alan created a role with the actress in mind; although not specifically for her as he has always insisted he has never written an actor-specific role. Alison subsequently received praise for the challenging role of Sasha, the young student apparently corrupted by her sugar daddy, Val.

The play itself is about how we change ourselves to suit those around us, but how - ultimately - we always return to or can’t escape from who we really are. Although it was criticised for an apparently sugary climax (something which the playwright would later address), the play still manages to be rather dark and brutal. Alan’s skill as a dramatist highlighted in how two vicious attacks are handled completely differently: one physical attack is reported over the phone as a hilarious set-piece, while a brutal on-stage verbal attack leaves both victim and audience reeling from its power and impact.

The play's resolution in which Sasha asserts her independence and shows more awareness of her situation than she has been given credit for, highlights Alan’s view that critics do not find comedies worthy. As the critics generally enjoyed the play, one wonders if it had a tragic or pessimistic ending whether it would have been critically regarded as a more substantial Ayckbourn piece rather than just a solid and entertaining Ayckbourn play.

Sugar Daddies opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the summer of 2003 before going on tour in a co-production with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. There is a sense from reviews that this play was expected to go to the West End and that Alan’s resolution to avoid commercial London theatre would be forgotten following the issues with the West End production of the Damsels In Distress trilogy the previous year. However, despite interest in the play from the West End, Alan and the Stephen Joseph Theatre chose to strike a developing partnership with this regional theatre to take the Stephen Joseph Theatre company out to theatres around the country on Alan’s own terms.

In 2013, two major revivals of the play took place to mark its 10th anniversary with Alan Ayckbourn directing the North American premiere of the play at ACT, Seattle. This marked his west coast directorial debut and also a rare instance of Alan directing a completely American company with the production being directed in-the-round. Unusually, Alan also made alterations to the climax of the play, offering the suggestion that whilst Sasha has escaped the influence of Uncle Val, she has not been entirely unaffected by her time with him; these alterations can be found on the website
here. Robin Herford also directed a revival for a co-production between Harrogate Theatre and Oldham Coliseum.

The play has been published by Faber & Faber as part of the collection
Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 3 and was released for performance by professional and amateur companies in early 2006. Performances of the play should now include the revised climax to the script which can be found here.

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