Miss Yesterday: History

In 2003, Alan Ayckbourn premiered his play My Sister Sadie. This was one of the playwright’s family plays, but marked a notable step forward. The protagonists had become - for the first time - teenagers and the play tackled head-on a number of pertinent of issues that would challenge audiences of any age. Miss Yesterday, his 68th play written in 2004, would continue that trend.
Behind The Scenes: A Sound Of Thunder
Miss Yesterday pays particular homage to one of the best known works of time-travelling fiction, A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. The play mentions the 'butterfly effect' which is a specific nod to the story: at its most basic, a time-traveller accidentally kills a butterfly during the Cretaceous period - this most seemingly insignificant of actions has terrible ripple effects and significantly alters the course of history upon the traveller's return to his present (the 'sound of thunder' is the last thing he hears when he is shot for deviating from the rules of the time-travel expedition). It is also worth noting that as a fan of the golden age of speculative / science fiction, Ray Bradbury is one of Alan's favourite authors and his influence can also be seen in the play Surprises.
Miss Yesterday contains elements of both My Sister Sadie and his 2000 play, Whenever. The latter dealt with time-travel and the idea that one small event can have immense repercussions (in Whenever's case, the murder of one man leads to mankind annihilating itself in decades of continuous war). My Sister Sadie was an altogether more personal play that dealt with moral issues and how they largely affected one family.

Miss Yesterday merges these ideas in a time-travelling play with very personal consequences; it is a play which concerns family and impact the loss of a sibling can have on it. The focus is very personal and explores how the protagonist, Tammy, deals with the loss of her brother. When Tammy is given the opportunity to save him, she takes the obvious, emotional choice but her time-travelling actions result in consequences which have unforeseen implications for the entire planet. Tammy is forced to look within herself and re-evaluate her actions not just with regard to how it affects her and her family, but for the rest of the world.

As with
My Sister Sadie, the protagonist - Tammy - is a teenager and a complex character with teenage issues such as lack of self-esteem. As Alan has noted, by tackling slightly older characters, his emotional base is widened and, theoretically, sightly older characters can be given much more weighty issues to consider as well as offering a chance to explore the fascinating relationship between parents and their teenage offspring.

Structurally, the play moves backwards and forwards in time and the play is punctuated by Tammy stepping out the narrative to question what she is doing and why. It is not a conventional play, but with an audience that is not necessarily aware of theatrical conventions, the play has a freedom and confidence to play with stage time and the narrative structure. It also makes the audience very aware of the key decisions that affect Tammy’s life and why she chooses to make them.

Central to the play - and mentioned within the play - is the idea of the 'butterfly effect', which is a specific nod to Ray Bradbury's famed short story
A Sound Of Thunder (see right-hand column). Within the play, Tammy's apparently largely inconsequential decision to alter time to save her brother has terrifying global implications, reflecting the short story inspiration. This also reflects Alan's love of science fiction and his voracious appetite for reading the golden age of science fiction writing when he was a young man.

The play opened in December 2004 at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and was met with mixed but predominantly positive reaction from the press. Again - as had been experienced with previous plays premiered during the Christmas period - the detractors seemed more concerned with the issue as to whether the play was suitable seasonal entertainment rather than on its own merits; although In contrast, other critics praised the play for offering such substantive material at Christmas.

Although the play has not been published, it is available to perform by both professionals and amateurs (reading scripts are available from Alan Ayckbourn's agents
Casarotto Ramsay) and has proven to be popular with audiences in the UK and abroad.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.