The Square Cat: Did You Know?

This article was originally published on the Alan Ayckbourn Blog as part of the Replaying Ayckbourn series of articles celebrating the playwright's 75th birthday in 2014.
  • Alan Ayckbourn wrote The Square Cat when he was just 19 years old. It was written whilst on the Studio Theatre Company 1959 winter tour, which included Harold Pinter’s self-directed second production of The Birthday Party (which featured Alan playing Stanley).
  • Alan had written approximately a dozen plays before The Square Cat, most of which are now lost. By all accounts though, none of these were full length and none were farces. It was entirely new territory for the budding playwright.
  • In a letter dated 19 March 1959, the Library Theatre’s manager Rodney Wood discusses the coming season with Scarborough Library and no mention is made of The Square Cat; it must have been a very late addition to the season.
  • The Square Cat was co-written with his fiancee Christine Roland - they married later that year in May 1959. As a result, it was credited to Roland Allen - although the first print of the production’s programme mis-spelt Allen as Allan.
  • Someone heads off for a clandestine meeting at a country-house, not knowing their partner has decided to follow them but who arrives first.... Sound familiar? It’s the set-up for both Relatively Speaking and The Square Cat.
  • Alan says he wrote the main part of a rock ‘n’ roll star for himself, despite knowing he couldn’t sing, dance or play the guitar. The original manuscript acknowledges this by ending the first act: “Wattis gives a triumphant twang on his guitar.” Unfortunately, someone - either writer or director - decided to be more ambitious as a handwritten next to it reads “breaks into a number”, despite the fact Alan only knew the chords for the song I Gave My Love A Cherry.
  • Television talent shows are definitely not a recent phenomenon, when the ‘Prince Regent Of Rock’ Jerry Wattis is asked how he got his lucky break, he responds: “I won a talent competition.”
  • Jerry’s mild-mannered alter-ego Arthur Brummage was brought up in a “dull seaside town” - a sly dig at Scarborough?
  • Memorable quote: “If people carried on like they do in songs, the delinquency rates would get out of hand.”
  • Product placement is obviously not a recent trend either as Jerry is constantly referring to Zingo - “The sparkling health drink with the tasty stimulant” which “will fill you up with new hep - zing - and off you go.” Hep apparently being a variant or earlier version of the word ‘hip.’ Jerry Wattis constantly spouts trendy Americanisms.
  • Sidney Glover - the protagonist Alice's husband - is definitely the prototype ‘Ayckbourn Man’; a husband who obsesses on DIY - and explains in detail the difference between water and gas pipes - and who is clueless as to how he treats his wife. He is almost a proto-Denis from Just Between Ourselves and, of course, in name a pre-cursor to Alan's most famous Sidney - Sidney Hopfcroft from Absurd Person Singular.
  • The Square Cat was the first play at the Library Theatre to run for two consecutive weeks.
  • According to financial accounts for the 1959 summer season, The Square Cat had a total attendance of 3,340 people. It was the second highest attended show of the year behind John van Druten’s Bell, Book & Candle with 3,349 people attending.
  • The play made £695, 8 shillings and 6 pence as compared to £696, 2 shillings and 6 pence for Bell, Book & Candle.
  • Alan estimates he earned £47 from The Square Cat - the most money he had ever earned in his life at that point!
  • The Square Cat was revived for the Studio Theatre Company’s 1960 winter tour with Barry Boys playing the role of Jerry Wattis due to Alan being called for a short-lived (3 days) National Service. It was never performed in its entirety again.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s, Alan insisted he had destroyed all copies of the play. However, original manuscripts are held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York, the John Rylands Library at the University Of Manchester and the Lord Chamberlain’s Collection at the British Library.
Pendon-isms
Pendon is the fictional town which appears in many of Alan Ayckbourn's play.
  • While The Square Cat does not specifically identify where it is set - it mentions “just outside London” and “Surrey” - it sounds potentially like a fore-runner to Alan’s renowned fictional town of Pendon. Although this will not appear until Relatively Speaking in 1965, it is predominantly located (occasionally the town moves) in the London commuter belt, near Reading, in a similar vicinity.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.