Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview from 2011 was submitted to Alan Ayckbourn by Gustavo Fioratti, and the responses are held in The Ayckbourn Archive.

Questions on Writing

Gustavo Fioratti: How many times have you seen ideas of you been taken to cinema or television?
Alan Ayckbourn:
Quite often. But there is no copyright on ideas, thank goodness. I have used ideas that I have seen on film and translated them into stage usage just as much as I’ve seen ideas very similar to mine cropping up in movies and especially television.

Have you ever been lead to any idea by someone else work, in the theatre, cinema, music etc?
Carrying on from the last question, yes, especially from cinema. Occasionally I acknowledge this, for instance in plays like The Revengers’ Comedies, I make direct reference to the classic Hitchcock movie, Strangers on a Train. And in a later play, Snake in the Grass, the story is similar to Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

What do you think about being called 'The Molière of the Middle Classes'? Do you see similarities with his work?
I’m rather flattered but I can’t really see that much resemblance. But then over 50 years of writing, I’ve been compared to a lot of people! Molière and I both write about similar aspiring levels of our respective societies in an affectionate and satirical manner.

Was Chekhov also an important influence to you?
Yes he was. More than any writer, I love the level of his plays, comic, sad, sometimes tragic - often all three at the same time. Our laughter grows from the characters themselves, always with them or even for them but rarely at them. He never condemns only observes and leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions. I hope I do that.

How do you see English theatre of today? What has changed in dramaturgy by the generations that fallowed your generation?
Ever since I started, English theatre has lurched from one crisis to another - all of it financial. We have a very strong theatre tradition, producing fine actors, directors, designers and, yes, writers. But our society, from successive governments downwards, as a whole has never acknowledged this strength or for that matter done a lot to encourage or celebrate it. Maybe that’s why we’re good at it. We’ve had to fight for its survival!

You’ve always been quoted as a playwright with a commitment: fulfilling theatres. Do you think it could sometimes be a strong limit to your own freedom?
I presume you mean that I have, by necessity, needed to write plays that fill theatres and make money, both for them and for me. Yes, that’s true. The size of your audience is often a measure of your success. How else are we to judge ourselves? But I’ve always tried to balance the two, popularity and a desire to experiment. I’m proud that occasionally I have opened the doors of alternative possibility in theatre.

The critic Michael Billington sad you work show your 'frankly feminist viewpoint'. Is it true this commentary has something to do with your mother? Has she inspired you?
Probably, she did. During the early years, that is the years when I suppose I was starting to develop as an individual and therefore, I suppose, as a playwright, I was brought up by her, an only child with a single parent. Understandably, I must have heard and I guess absorbed a lot of the woman’s point of view. She didn’t dislike men but she knew better as a woman, than to trust them!

What do you consider to be the greatest experience of having a play staged simultaneously at two theatres?
Exciting. I assume you are referring to my double play, House & Garden. I think these days theatre needs to be an event. A special occasion which persuades people to leave their TV screens and computers. Something that makes them say, ‘Hey, this sounds interesting. I don’t want to miss it.’ Because theatre performances are possible to miss. Theatre is ethereal, here tonight, gone tomorrow, unlike movies or discs which are around for a good deal longer and indeed you can see any old time. Theatre is NOW.

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