Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

In this interview between Alan Ayckbourn and Simon Murgatroyd - later the playwright's Archivist - from September 2011, the playwright discusses his work at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the coming months. The interview was originally published on 15 September 1999.

Planning For The New Millennium

Simon Murgatroyd: Next year is the new Millennium, what are your plans?
Alan Ayckbourn:
We want to do a retrospective year, so one can expect - quite unusually for us - a series of known plays. The only positively new work will be Virtual Reality [Ayckbourn's latest play]. Everything else will be a mix of known but interesting work drawn from this last century. We're trying to put pieces on we like and can afford - out of each of the decades. Something Edwardian, something from the tail-end of Victoriana right up to the '90s.[1]

Will there be the odd Ayckbourn in there too?
In the autumn, there'll be a revival of Bedroom Farce. I think there is a new audience for it and it does bear repeating, as everyone who has had a rough night will appreciate.

It seems an unusual choice moving away from an emphasis on new writing, is there a particular reason for this?
We've had a change of literary manager and Laura Harvey has begun the quite long process of commissioning, encouraging and finding writing both from established writers, ones we're already working with and new writers. So hopefully, by 2001, we'll blitz the theatre with new work.[2]

Back to 2000, do you see the season being as ambitious as the 1998 10x10 season where there seemed to be something happening at the theatre all the time? [3]
Within the season, there'll be more attempts to make use of the available spaces. It's always a case of juggling bodies and the amount of company you can afford to employ. I hope to do a very full programme of lunchtime and late night shows too. It's a massive programme, but it's a fact that the more plays you do, the less risk it is. If you've got four plays and one doesn't sell well, that's 25% of your profits down the drain. With eight plays or 16 plays, you can afford to have the odd stinker. Also, the more plays you do, the more people pass through the building and there's more income from everywhere. When the place was buzzing with House & Garden this summer, everything else was doing very well and that was great.

This has been a very good summer for you with the success of House & Garden, what are your own thoughts on the past year?
It's been an interesting year. Everyone expected we'd do a 10x10 again, but it would have been a mistake in terms of the company and shows. We could only have had a year where they said "It was as good as last year.” It's a year where I'm still trying out the possibilities of this building, with repertoire in The McCarthy and in The Round. Many of the company have played both auditoria so it's a new sort of repertoire.

Were you surprised by the success of House & Garden? [4]
House & Garden was a big risk. Everyone wishes we'd run it longer now, but it was always a big risk. Technically I thought I could pull it off, but I didn't know whether it would just become "a clever technical exercise, what a pity it wasn't a good play to watch." I think it did well and what made me excited was
the whole event side of it, the way the audience mixed and mingled and came back. The
House audience met the Garden audience and there was the fête and it made for a great time. I think it’s success was it’s uniqueness - I suspect it isn't done much, two plays running concurrently. I think that obviously was uppermost in the audience's mind: 'We're seeing something very unique and we can say we've been here.' Which is nice. Afterwards, the hardest thing was coming back to normal work, which was very difficult. We weren't looking at the stopwatches, hurrying people around.

Website Notes:
[1] With regard to the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the latter did not progress quite as Ayckbourn had planned - most likely due to budgetary reasons. The 2000 20th century retrospective season began with Ayckbourn’s
Virtual Reality (2000) before Noël Coward's Private Lives (1930s), J.M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows (1900), Bernard Shaw's Candida (1890s), Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce (1970s) and Whenever (2000). Of the 20th century, only three decades were actually covered.
[2] The 2001 new writing season was more successful in its aims, but was largely dominated by Ayckbourn's acclaimed
Damsels in Distress trilogy. There were new plays however with Torben Betts' Clockwatching, David Cregan's Whispers Along The Patio and the lunchtime shows Amaretti Angels by Sarah Phelps, Inappropriate Behaviour by Robert Shearman and Liz John's Secondhand Dreams.
[3] The 10x10 season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre took place during the summer of 19098. It featured a company of 10 actors in 10 plays, eight of which were world premieres and two of which were British premieres.
House & Garden presented a large risk and challenge for the Stephen Joseph Theatre as it is two plays featuring the same company, designed to play simultaneously with each other. As an actor departs one play / stage, they enter in the other play / stage.

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