Drowning On Dry Land: BackgroundOne of Alan Ayckbourn’s most significant plays of the 1980s was Man Of The Moment, an incisive look at the media and the cult of celebrity. Inspired by the Great Train Robbery, it featured a criminal (Vic Parks) who had become a celebrity primarily on the back of his past notorious activities. In 2004, Alan returned to the cult of celebrity with his 66th play Drowning On Dry Land, a play which explores the concept of people who become celebrities despite having achieved nothing in their lives and what extremes people will go to achieve their own celebrity.
The play was inspired by Piers Morgan's 2003 television documentary series The Importance of Being Famous and Alan was fascinated by the antics of 'ordinary' people desperately trying to achieve their 15 minutes of fame; this being epitomised by how one character exploits an opportunity at fame at the expense of her 'hero', despite essentially subverting reality to suit her own ends. Combined with this, the play explores how celebrity can be taken away as quickly as it is given, the ruthlessness of the media in moving from one hot property to the next and how people come to terms with not being famous any more.
Ironically the play achieved publicity for not only dealing with this subject but also by coincidental timing. Although the play had been written some months earlier, its premiere coincided with the tabloid scandal of footballer David Beckham having an alleged affair with his PR assistant Rebecca Loos; the incident coincidentally mirroring the play's 'celebrity star' Charlie being caught 'in flagrante' by a journalist. With this unintentional timing, the play became more relevant than ever. In subsequent years, the play has come to seem even more prescient with the emergence and often equally sudden disappearance of celebrities generated from reality television shows such as Big Brother.
The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in May 2005 appropriately starring Stephen Beckett; an actor who had recently left the popular and long-running British soap opera Coronation Street and was obviously familiar with the concept of celebrity. While the play undoubtedly benefited from its pertinence, the critical response was generally lukewarm, although most critics agreed that the second act's first scene in which Charlie’s lawyer Hugo - played by Stuart Fox - verbally mauls the woman accusing Charlie of taking advantage of her, was a classic piece of Ayckbourn writing.
Perhaps as a result of this reception, Drowning On Dry Land did not receive its London premiere until it opened at the Jermyn Street Theatre on 23 February 2011, where it was also amicably received with Les Dennis taking the role of Charlie's agent, Jason.
The play was published in 2005 in Faber's Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 3 collection. It has also been published by Samuel French as an acting edition.
The cast of the original production of Drowning On Dry Land would go on to appear in Private Fears In Public Places; a play Alan was inspired to write while in rehearsals for Drowning On Dry Land.
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