At the close of the 20th Century, Mike Shipley looked back at the “Top of the Pops” column he has been presenting since 1987. There are few surprises, but some facts are so striking that he thought you would like to know them.
MOST PERFORMED PLAYWRIGHTS
In the 13 Hit Parades, Alan Ayckbourn and Shakespeare have featured at the top every time – but with 351 productions compared to 290, Ayckbourn emerges the very clear overall winner. Immediate runners up are John Godber (163 productions in 8 parades), Neil Simon (134 productions in 10 parades) and Noël Coward (131 productions in 12 parades). Following a little way behind are Willy Russell, Richard Harris, Arthur Miller, Terence Rattigan, J.B Priestley, Alan Bennett and Ray Cooney.
Authors who have made more than one fleeting appearance in the Parades have included Hugh Whitemore, Peter Shaffer, Tom Stoppard, Oscar Wilde, Michael Frayn, Henrik Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, Robert Harling and Terry Pratchett.
The top five playwrights in 2000 remain the same today, though their positions are very slightly altered, as follows:
Alan Ayckbourn – 820 productions in 26 years
William Shakespeare – 703
Noël Coward – 359
John Godber – 316
Neil Simon – 308
Of the playwright runners-up in 2000, the same names are still there. I didn’t quote the figures in my summary of 2000, but over the last 13 years, the following is the league table:
Alan Bennett – 214 productions in 13 years
Arthur Miller – 104
Richard Harris – 78
J B Priestley – 65
Ray Cooney – 63
Terence Rattigan – 62
Willy Russell – 59
For all these authors, in the years (rarely) that they did not appear in the “Top Ten”, there will have been productions of their plays, so that these totals are not finally definitive.
Now what conclusions should we draw from this? The same twelve playwrights (5 of them dead!) continue to dominate the LTG scene over 26 years! Despite play selection panels demonstrating a steady willingness to try new and unusual repertoire, and audiences willing to go along with the choices, the ‘bread and butter’ of amateur theatre seems to remain constant. Bums have to be put on seats. But will the same recipe for success continue for another 25 years?
On the other hand, these top playwrights wrote some terrific plays, which deserve frequent revivals not just for the pleasure they give to audiences, but also for the experience they provide for the actors and technicians.