Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview is held in correspondence in The Ayckbourn Archive having been submitted as a questionnaire to the playwright during 2018.

Correspondence on Writing (2018)

Please name countries where your plays have never been performed and possible reasons therefore.
Alan Ayckbourn:
I have no idea where they haven’t been performed. You need to consult my excellent website and probably from that you can calculate where they have been done and subtract the total from the remaining countries of the world! I should imagine there are probably hundreds - starting with the continent of Africa. Though the exceptions there are also quite apparent South Africa. Kenya, Saudi Arabia etc.
|If they are not performed in a particular country, it is possibly either because it has no strong theatre tradition or the plays are not considered relevant to the culture (see next answer).

Is comedy and humour getting globalised too?
I think humour, at its most general level has always been universal. Hence the generally universal popularity of silent movies (no language barrier) and more recently Mr Bean. Simple situation comedy, which includes human relationships is also global (between men and women, parents and children etc.) Comedy to be funny always requires a point of personal recognition and reference for an audience to appreciate it.
I presume my plays, at heart, are pretty basic.

Is there a play you appreciate as a perfect one (tragedy and/or comedy)? Why?
I think the words perfect and play do not belong in the same sentence. Though people have come pretty close. Hamlet’s a good example. It has a strong plot, clearly told, good characters strong dialogue, full of ideas and has plenty of action.

Humour is one of British export hits. Do you think this is just because it uses the most spoken language in the world or is it just the best humour in the world?
We do have the advantage of a widely spoken language (thanks to the USA who share approximately the same vocabulary!) but I think the main reason, though, is the English language’s sheer range and size. There are usually half a dozen alternative words at an author’s disposal all meaning the same thing but all, in turn, capable in context of different shades of meaning. A nightmare for lawyers and lawmakers but a delight for writers. In addition, almost any word is capable, again in context, of a double meaning (e.g. She placed her hand gently on his context).

As in your plays, crime and humour often come together in British drama. Do you see a special reason for that tradition? Do humour and suspense always fit together?
By ‘crime’ I think you mean drama. My plays are comparatively crime free, very few murders rapes, thefts and fights. But I have, I think, run drama and comedy close together especially in my later plays. Working on the principle that light is perceived best when surrounded by shadows and vice versa. And that the best laughter often springs from the most painful truths.

In Germany there has always been and still is a gap between the boulevard / vaudeville / ”Volkstheater” and the serious drama. Does this gap exist in England too?
Not really. I hope I have helped in a small way to eliminate that (20th century) artificial distinction. A play, in my view, should be neither so light that it has absolutely no content to hold your interest or so heavy that it ultimately loses your attention. Balance, balance, balance!

Did you try other forms of writing (novel, cartoon, short story)?
Never. Not even movie or TV scripts. Well, one half-hour television script a long time ago.

You often tried to adopt movie techniques like leaps in time and multiple settings on to the stage. Have you been satisfied with the results?
It’s been interesting. And occasionally rewarding. Especially the time leaps.

Are playwrights more communicative persons than other authors?
Not really. It probably depends on the individual. I don’t really know that many personally. When I’m writing I tend to be a lone individual. When I’m directing, I tend to talk a bit more. A bit more, not a lot.

What do you think of theatre as an institution of education?
I think Theatre can be immensely educational but only indirectly. When it is used specifically for educational purposes, it loses all spark of humanity and fire. Theatre is primarily there to discuss and illuminate the human condition, which is a very imprecise subject. Theatre is never at its strongest when it attempts to convey raw information. Better to leave that for books or leaflets.

Do you think of religion as an interesting topic for comedy?
It’s an excellent topic for comedy. Anything that takes itself desperately seriously and humourlessly and possessing so many elements of tragedy deserves to be portrayed humorously. Not individual deities, you understand, but the self-deluded souls who purport to serve and speak for them.

What is your favourite dish?
Steak and Kidney pie.

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.