A Cut In The Rates: Background

A Cut In The Rates in a one-act play by Alan Ayckbourn which was written specifically to be performed as part of a television documentary. It is not a screenplay or a television play though, rather a short play that just happened to have been first broadcast on television.

The short play was commissioned by the BBC for the educational series
English Files for a programme exploring the whole process of staging a play from read-through to rehearsals to production. The episode was produced by the Scarborough-born Geoff Wilson and filming for the programme took place in Scarborough between 8 - 12 November, 1983.

A Cut In The Rates was performed for the first time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round on Saturday 12 November 1983 with a limited amount of tickets available to the public; this performance was recorded by the BBC. Produced on a limited budget, the play was written to take advantage of the current production at the venue, which was Michael Cashman's Before Your Very Eyes. The play utilised the set and props from this play and also drew on three members of the acting company: Lavinia Bertram, Liza Sadovy and Michael Cashman.

The
English Files programme was broadcast on BBC2 at 2.30pm on 21 January 1984 and ran for 25 minutes. Unfortunately, it has never been made available commercially by the BBC. The play was later published by Samuel French as an acting edition in 1991 and made available for professional and amateur production and has been popular with amateur companies and schools.

The play features a rates collector, Miss Pickhart visiting the house of an illusionist, Ratchet, to enquire as to why he hasn't been paying his rates. As she inspects the house, it transpires that Ratchet's wife, Rosalinda, died seven years earlier in a tragic magic accident. Left alone in the cellar with the illusionist's props, Rosalinda appears bearing the hideous marks of her accident and persuades Miss Pickhart to climb into the magic cabinet where she died. A deranged Ratchet reappears, thinking Miss Pickhart is Rosalinda and intending to kill her. Rosalind appears and Ratchet has a heart attack allowing Miss Pickhart to escape from the house, discovering that both Ratchet and his wife apparently died seven years earlier. Of course, it is all a ruse. Ratchet and Rosalinda are both alive and well and have concocted an elaborate plan to avoid paying bills on their house!

It is worth noting that
A Cut In The Rates is considered in the Ayckbourn canon to be a play from 1984, this reflects the year it was broadcast (as it was commissioned for that programme) rather than 1983 when the play received its first public performance.

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