Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This correspondence with a student from 2010 is held in The Ayckbourn Archive.

Comedy & Tragedy

Your plays are famously known for being comedies, how do you embrace the link between comedy and tragedy?
Alan Ayckbourn:
Comedy is what’s on the label! But ‘a comedy’ on a playbill sells more tickets than ‘a drama’. In the early days, the comedy content was probably uppermost in my work with a strand of sadness running through them. Latterly, the reverse is true, many of them being tragi-dramas with a strain of comedy running through them.

Do you feel there is a close link between the two?
In my case the two are inseparable. For some years now, I have refused to label the plays at all, preferring to refer to them as simply ‘a play’ on the front cover. The choice of calling them comedy or drama was increasingly difficult, anyway.

What is your view on portraying tragedy through the use of comedy?
I don’t look at it that way. After all if you paint a picture, you rarely paint all dark or all light. The lightness serves to emphasise the darkness and vice versa. Playwriting is at heart storytelling. And good story telling relies on contrast - fast and slow, loud and soft and light and shade. It’s not a deliberate or calculating thing. It’s born of instinct. It might, arguably, be possible to teach the craft of playwriting. But the art of storytelling can never be taught.

Do you feel that your plays appeal more to the general public than some writers as you show the reality of life?
I seem to tap in on areas of experience which an audience recognises and feels is relevant to its own experience. My plays are about basic inner feelings - love, hate - joy, despair - laughter and tears - and thus touch more people than possibly a more specific issue-based drama which is bound, by its nature, to appeal to an interested minority, however sizeable.

Have you any other comments?
Please don’t get too hung up on the two categories of comedy and tragedy. They’re closer than you think and they can often run parallel; occasionally even simultaneously. In a good play that ought to be true. In a great play, it almost invariably is.

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