Callisto 5 / Callisto#7: BackgroundIf, as he 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 perhaps his version of Henceforward… for young people.
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 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.
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 Ayckbourn Articles page), but there are very obvious references to the Alien movies 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 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 the structure of many games and would be familiar to a young audience.
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.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.