Countdown: Background

Countdown is a short one-act play concerning two people who reveal how each other's habits and familiar phrases irritate them. While apparently cordial in dialogue, their true feelings are revealed through spoken thoughts. Although traditionally traced back to the West End revue Mixed Doubles, premiered in 1969, it has a rather more convoluted history.

Countdown was written no later than 1962 as it appears in a very early version of Mixed Doubles entitled If Love Decay..., presented by the Colchester Repertory Club. At this point the production was a mix of old and new writing on the theme of marriage, featuring the actors Andrée Melly and Oscar Quitak. The new work being short plays by Alan Ayckbourn, David Campton, John Gorrie and Lyndon Brook.

The production next identifiably appears in 1967 at the Malvern Festival Theatre, now called
The Last Word? (An Entertainment On Marriage) with the same cast and Anton Rodgers as director. It has a revised programme that also includes pieces by James Saunders, Julia Jones, Fay Weldon and John Bowen.

In February 1969, the piece was then premiered as
We Who Are About To... at Hampstead Theatre Club with the original cast now joined by Nigel Stock and Vivien Merchant. Direction is credited to both Alexander Dore and Anton Rodgers and the programme sees John Gorrie's piece replaced with one by Alun Owen.

This production then transferred to the Comedy Theatre in London, under yet another title revision of
Mixed Doubles. However, the production was not quite finished: Lyndon Brooks' piece originally titled Mixed Doubles was altered to Score and a new piece by Harold Pinter replaced Julia Jones' contribution.

The final piece in the
Countdown puzzle is a television adaptation, which was broadcast on BBC2 in December 1972 as part of the Full House arts programme. It featured Sheila Hancock and Clive Dunn as the husband and wife. Mixed Doubles has been published by both Methuen and Samuel French and remains popular to this day.

"This still crops up occasionally. Mixed Doubles was pretty successful, though it had an awkward first night with eight authors all sitting together in the stalls."
(Alan Ayckbourn, 1989)


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