Callisto 5 / Callisto#7: History

If, as he frequently notes, Alan Ayckbourn had begun re-writing his adult plays for children with Invisible Friends’ reworking of Woman In Mind, then the Callisto plays are arguably his version of Henceforward… for young people.
Behind The Scenes: NAN Revisited
In an interview with Bernard F Dukore shortly before Alan Ayckbourn began writing Callisto 5, the playwright noted he intended the malfunctioning robot child-minder to be the same model of robot, the NAN500F, that was previously seen in his play Henceforward…. This would have made explicit the suggestion that Callisto 5 was a young people's version of Henceforward…. For unknown reasons, when Alan wrote the play he changed the character to the more overtly robotic DAMARIS.
The Callisto plays were written for the Christmas slot at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1990 and 1999, but, as is common with all the 'family' plays, their themes intersect with his 'adult' plays.

Although the link between the
Callisto plays and Henceforward… is not as overt as that between Invisible Friends and Woman In Mind, they both feature themes of isolation, the importance of human contact / relationships and the dehumanising effects of technology in a near future world (albeit a city in the north of England in Henceforward... and one of Jupiter's moons in Callisto 5 / Callisto#7).

What the
Callisto plays also share in common with Invisible Friends - and all Alan's 'family' plays - is the optimistic ending that both Woman In Mind and Henceforward... lack; Alan being particularly adamant that plays for young people can be quite dark but ultimately should be optimistic. All this illustrates the oft-quoted fact that all of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays - no matter who they are aimed at - are dealing with similar themes and issues, but the family plays just move at a faster pace.
Behind The Scenes: Video Games
Callisto 5 was the first Ayckbourn play to make use of on-stage video footage; it was shown through screens hung from the grid above the in-the-round acting space facing the audience. The footage was entirely pre-recorded as it needs to show an otherwise invisible monster wandering the on-stage set. As a result of this, in both versions of the play, the actors holding the dummy video camera have to exactly mirror the movement of the camera footage being shown on the screens, which is supposed to be a live-feed from the camera to the monitors.
The Callisto plays are technically ambitious pieces that explore some of the ideas previously raised in Henceforward… mixed with one of Alan’s most explicit homages to the movies he loves and the science-fiction novels he enjoyed in his youth. There are too many influences here to mention (although some self-proclaimed ones can be found on the Articles page), but there are very obvious references to the movies Alien, Aliens and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Meanwhile, it also shares with Henceforward… a malfunctioning robot, lives dominated by technology and - essentially - the effects of solitude.

Arguably, the plays - especially
Callisto#7 - are also inspired by video games: made explicit by opening on an actual video game being played and climaxing with the revelation that all that has occurred has - essentially - been a game. The level-like structure of the play with a new challenge to be solved before the children can move on, culminating in a confrontation with an intimidating enemy echoes a classic game structure and would be familiar to a young audience. Alan has long been a fan of computer / video games from playing the early games in Scarborough's seafront arcades to home-computer gaming.
Behind The Scenes: Alien
In both Callisto plays, the alien creature (unseen except in the pre-recorded footage) is not mentioned in the programme nor the actor credited (in Callisto 5, this was the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round's Press Officer Jeannie Swales and in Callisto#7, the actress Sherry Booth). The original monster - in the grand tradition of '60s - '80s British science-fiction television - was created with bubble wrap with a rubbish bin for a head, which had the base cut off and a vicious set of cardboard teeth stuck around the edge….
Callisto 5 opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1990 and was a success with its young audiences and received predominantly positive reviews. It is interesting to note the amount of reviews from national publications was decreasing, part of a trend that has seen plays for young people become increasingly marginalised, no matter who the writer or the company performing.

Callisto 5 was published and although there is no written evidence to suggest Alan was unhappy with the original play, he had mentioned for several years he intended to revise it. This he finally did in 1999 with Callisto#7.

Although the plot follows the same course, the play introduced a sister to a younger Jem. This, Alan noted, made the play “more human” and gave more drama to the piece as Jem and Jodi face not only the alien, but their own sibling feuding which they have to confront in order to overcome the apparent threat to their lives.

Despite being considered the definitive version of the play,
Callisto#7 has not been published, but it is available to produce.

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