by Alan Ayckbourn, 2005


Improbable Fiction is a 2005 play by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. It is about a writers' circle, on the night the chairman, Arnold, seems to wander into the imaginations of the other writers.


The play begins with Arnold anxiously setting up the chairs for a writers' circle meeting. First to arrive is Ilsa, a young girl whom Arnold hires to serve the tea. Ilsa also looks after Arnold's live-in bed-ridden mother, who periodically demands attention by banging a stick on the upstairs floor. She holds Arnold and the rest of the group in awe on the grounds that they are all writers, although Arnold himself, the only member of the group to have had something published, only writes instruction leaflets.

When the rest of the group arrive, they all, over the first act, reveal what they are working on. Grace shows her illustrations for her children's story "Doblin the Goblin" (with friend Sid the Squirrel), Jess tells her of her vision for her period romance, Vivvi explains how her latest detective novel is darker than the last three, Brevis plays a (somewhat tuneless) song "There's Light at the End of the Tunnel" from his musical adaptation of The Pilgrim's Progress, and Clem reads out an extract from his science fiction story (or, as Clem sees it, "science fact", with names changed to protect identities).

All the writers have obvious weaknesses with their writing. Grace's children have long since grown up and her ideas would be confusing to the age this kind of story is aimed at. Jess never manages to start writing, whilst Vivvi is clearly over-writing, and her description of the detective's smitten sidekick is obviously modelled on her and her search for the right man. Brevis's long list of successfully performed musicals can be attributed to the fact that he was a teacher at a school, and now that he is retired he is stuck. And Clem gets angry that no-one can follow his incomprehensible plot, and his persistent mispronunciation of words (such as "invulshable" instead of "invincible") drives Brevis up the wall.

There is not much sign of the writers helping each other that much, and the group is still reeling from last week's visiting writer (if you can count someone who is only publicised on the internet as a writer), whose summary, in Arnold's words, was that "You should get the F-word on with it" (to which Brevis points out he finished with "you bunch of w*****s.") When a nervous Ilsa enters and serves the tea painfully slowly, the rest of the group start making wild speculation about her.

With the meeting over, the five writers go home, leaving just Ilsa, waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up on his motorbike. Suddenly, the lights go out, and Arnold sees Ilsa, in Victorian dress, walk towards him with a candle and a knife. The other five writers also surround him in Victorian dress. Ilsa screams, Arnold cries "Good Gracious!" and the first act ends.

With the second act starting exactly where the first one left off, Arnold suddenly hears Jess narrating the story, somewhat in the style of Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters. Ilsa, it seems, has turned into an heiress who has seen some sort of ghost. But before this mystery can be solved, the room changes into that of a 1930s house, and a detective (Clem) and his assistant (Vivvi, behaving very similar to the real Vivvi) question Arnold about the murder of his wife, rather like a Poirot mystery. And then, before this is solved, Arnold finds himself confronted by a group of agents investigating the alien abduction of his mother-in-law (this time, with striking similarity to The X Files, Alien or The Matrix), with the leader (Brevis), mispronouncing all the long words exactly how Clem would want them.

As Arnold flits back and forth through the stories, the first two mysteries are solved relatively easily. The ghost that the heiress/Ilsa saw, was, of course, just a model created by her scheming cousin (Clem) so that she could be declared insane and he could get the inheritance, but he gets rumbled. And so (or, as Jess narrates "And so, dear reader ...") this story ends. The murder's alibi in the 1930s is exposed when it is pointed out she did not have her glasses at the time, but not before the detective comes across a strange instruction manual in his pocket. Making the first kind comment ever to his sidekick (and Vivvi says "Isn't he wonderful!") he leaves Arnold with the maid/Ilsa, who now seems to be his mistress. Ilsa advances on a bemused Arnold, but before she can have her way with him, he is back in the sci-fi story.

The agents capture an alien pod and use it as trade. Whilst waiting, Brevis almost starts playing a song he wrote on the piano, but gets interrupted by the release of the captive. Suddenly, the alien pod starts to open to reveal ... Doblin the Goblin (Ilsa). A much more tuneful version of "There's Light at the End of the Tunnel" starts playing, Doblin sails down the river (the open alien pod now serving as Doblin's walnut-cum-boat), Sid the Squirrel follows, with all the rest in tow.

And so Arnold is left alone again. He says "It's nice to finish with a song". The real Ilsa joins him — evidently, whilst he spent an hour in other people's imaginations, for her it was just a moment in another room. It is clear that Arnold and Ilsa have a genuine friendship. Then, after Ilsa leaves, to prove it is back to reality, Arnold's mother bangs on the ceiling once more. He goes upstairs saying "It was a quiet evening really. Nothing unusual ..."


Arnold Hassock Bernard Godwin
Ilsa Wolby Vicki Johnson
Jess Bales Caroline Goldston
Grace Sims Karen Wilson
Vivvi Dickins Sian Kenyon
Clem Pepp Jack Fulford
Brevis Winterton David Ashton


Director Roland Chesters
Producer Pip Ashton
Costumes Lynn Tilling, Jane Cooper
Designer Bernard Godwin


The Magdalene Players

The Magdalene Players are an Amateur Drama Group based in Wandsworth, London, England. We have been performing at the St Mary Magdalene Church Hall in London, SW17 7HP since 1980.

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