Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview / article by Alan Ayckbourn was written during 1982 for the National Theatre's production of Way Upstream.

The Author Talks To The Director

Author: I suppose we're probably one of the longest established author/ director partnerships in existence. Which is gratifying - if a little frightening. This will be-what-the 25th play of mine we've done together. Endless opportunities for disagreements - yet in all honesty I think it would be true to say that we're closer today than we have ever been. Could you tell me, first, what do you think it was that attracted you and continues, 25 years later, to attract you to my work?
Director: Well, of course, sheer admiration. The way you manage, against all odds, continually to take me by surprise. That's the first thing. I suppose too I enjoy our partnership because of the freedom I now feel I have. To make what is perhaps a larger and more substantial contribution to your plays, as a director, than I feel I possibly could with someone else's work. Or perhaps would need to.

In what way larger?
That's difficult to define.

Do you mean, as I hope you mean, that my plays present you with such vast and varied scope for interpretation?
Partly that Partly. And partly, I suppose, I mean that I can take a larger role in the original creative process, than perhaps I would normally.

Really, I wasn't aware that was the case.
No. I think it does tend to go unnoticed. And rightly so. In an ideal director / writer partnership like ours, it is right and proper, that you, as dramatist should be credited with the lion's share of any creative achievement. Quite rightly, the director and the whole creative team that serve you are very much considered second fiddles. And, as I say, rightly so. Probably.

I don't think I've ever denied your contribution, have I?
Heavens, no. Of course you haven't. You would never do that. Not consciously. And, if you haven't acknowledged it either that's also completely understandable. As someone once said, it's enough that a writer should write about the world. We can hardly expect him to acknowledge its existence as well. I don't know who said that but I feel it's very apt.

Probaby a writer. Could you give me specific examples of where perhaps you feel that your own contribution has been undervalued. If that's the word.
Well - I suppose I smile a little when I hear you dubbed with such phrases as 'the master of technical wizardry' and so forth. As I'm sure anyone looking at the initial version of one of your plays when it first lands on my desk, would smile. Anyone would smile.

I can't say I've ever smiled. Turning if I may to you, now. As a director, of course, you're unique in the sense that you've based your whole career - and this makes me very proud in a way - on the work of one dramatist. This must be fairly unusual, mustn't it, for a director?
It is. It is. And, of course, it's a two-edged weapon. A director is, to some extent, limited by his author. It's useless to speculate but had we not met, who knows...

Yes, but as was once said - if you choose to use someone as a windbreak in winter you really can't object to being in their shadow when the sun shines. I don't know who said that but -
Probably a director. (Laughing).

(Laughing) Probably. Still, I suppose you wouldn't deny that, if it weren't for your association with my work, you probably wouldn't be working at the National Theatre today. (Laughing)
(Laughing) True. True. But then that could apply to both of us.

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