Ernie's Incredible Illucinations: History

Ernie's Incredible Illucinations was Alan Ayckbourn's first success as a writer for a younger audience and has proved to be astonishingly long-lived; in all likelihood it is the most performed of all of Alan Ayckbourn's plays!

The short play, conceived with performance by schools in mind, was written in 1969 and continues to be popular to this day. Ironically, it was written after the failure of two earlier plays for children (
Dad's Tale and Christmas V Mastermind), after which Alan had vowed never to write for children again as he felt he wasn't capable of doing it successfully.

The play was conceived as the result of receiving a commission to write a play for a book containing plays for children - the only time that Alan Ayckbourn has professionally written a play without a definitive performance and venue in mind. In personal correspondence held in the Ayckbourn Archive, he elaborates on why he decided to write
Ernie's Incredible Illucinations.

"The idea to write this play came about firstly because I was asked by Alan Durband, who was collecting a number of short plays for children for publication in a book he had been commissioned to do. He wrote, amongst a number of other playwrights, to me to ask if I'd be interested. I'd done very little writing for younger children but decided to have a go and
Ernie's Incredible Illucinations was the result. I tried to write a play which a large class of children could perform - a play that everyone could take part in. I also wanted to write something that would draw on the imagination of children and cause them possibly to explore other 'Ernie' situations of their own."

Alan has frequently said he is very fond of the piece and has always been amazed by its success and longevity. It has proved consistently popular with schools from the 1970s through to the present day and Alan notes that he has had three generations of families talk about performing in the play at school!

The plot is very simple and concerns Ernie being taken to see a doctor by his parents. They are concerned about Ernie's 'illucinations', of course the sceptical doctor and family find themselves astonished when the illucinations turn out to be real.

Ernie's Incredible Illucinations has been published several times and has also been adapted for television and broadcast on BBC1 on 11 November 1987. Although published in 1969 and performed by schools subsequent to this, the first professional production did not take place until 1971 when the Unicorn Theatre For Children produced the play. Since then, it has had an innumerable number of productions by young people around the world; in 2013, the publishers and play licensor Samuel French announced that between 1996 and 2013, it was the single most produced Ayckbourn play of that period.

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