Damsels In Distress: Articles

This section contains articles written by Alan Ayckbourn about the Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays. Click on a link in the right hand column to read the other articles in this section.

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the world premiere of RolePlay at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during 2001.

It's My Party (& I'll Untie If I Want To…)

Robert Morley, writer, actor and raconteur, once told me this story so it must be true. Years ago, he was apparently on an overseas theatre tour and the company were invited to dine with the British Ambassador.

When they all arrived, before being introduced to his Excellency and his good lady, they were taken aside by an aide and quietly warned that, owing to the pressures of duty, her ladyship had recently grown a trifle eccentric but that in order not to upset her husband would the guests please ignore any irregularities they might observe in his wife's behaviour.

Somewhat apprehensive, they were then introduced to the couple; to their relief their hosts appeared relaxed, charming and delightfully normal. At dinner they were seated at a long table, the ambassador at one end and his wife at the other.

The meal proceeded happily enough until Morley, sitting halfway down the table, noticed that his hostess was no longer in her seat. A few moments later he observed the male guest seated to the right of her empty chair twitch slightly and look somewhat surprised. A moment later, the man to her left did the same. And so on down the table, as male and female guests in turn displayed similar symptoms of mild shock or amazement.

Eventually, all was explained as Morley himself became aware of his hostess under the table surreptitiously untying his shoelaces and removing his shoes. Like those before him he tried to show no reaction to this but to give full attention to the ambassador's current anecdote as he chattered on, apparently oblivious.

Finally, as if by magic, her ladyship reappeared back in her chair, looking for all the world as if nothing had occurred. At the conclusion of the meal, she rose and invited the ladies to withdraw and led her party of bemused and shoeless female guests from the dining room. After an interval, the ambassador, the only male in footgear, did the same with the men.

When their hosts finally saw them all off and bade them goodnight, the party hurriedly recovered their shoes, which they discovered in a concealed pile just outside the front door. Rule Britannia.

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