Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

In this interview between Alan Ayckbourn and his Archivist Simon Murgatroyd during March 2017, the playwright discusses his revival of By Jeeves at the Old Laundry, Bowness-on-Windermere.

By Jeeves

Simon Murgatroyd: It’s been 16 years since you last directed By Jeeves - with its Broadway premier - why have you returned to it in 2017?
Alan Ayckbourn:
I was asked to revive it by the show’s original designer, Roger Glossop. I think he had a yen to return to it for the Old Laundry’s Theatre’s 25th anniversary. He approached me when I was in Bowness-on-Windermere in the autumn. He and his partner asked if I’d fancy directing it again. I said yes.

You’ve directed By Jeeves many times and in many different permutations, how are you approaching this production?
I think Roger really wants to repeat the original experience at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, so I’ll do my best. But it’s not in the round anymore, it’s three-sided, which is certainly makes a difference - although it’s not going to make quite so much difference as sticking it back in a Proscenium Arch. So it’s going to be the same intimate style of production we had back at the opening of the SJT and I hope we’ll recapture some of that magic.

It also seems to be a case of bringing the old gang back together!
Hopefully a lot of the original creative team are coming back. Roger is back to design it alongside Sheila Carter, who who did the original choreography. Sadly, our lighting designer, Mick Hughes, isn't there but Jason Taylor - who I’ve worked with regularly is doing it. We also have a new Musical Director, Steven Edie, who I worked with on Where Is Peter Rabbit? at the Old Laundry Theatre last year. We’re all really looking forward to it and rediscover it really because, it was quite a long time ago and there is a new generation of audiences who haven’t seen it and - I hope - of actors we need to find, because the original cast will certainly be a bit long in the tooth for it now!

What do you thin k is the essential element for By Jeeves to work?
I think it’s so reliant on P.G. Wodehouse and I remember writing it and imbibing his style before I wrote; so it is, to all intents, and purposes a Wodehouse script. Although not a lot of the incidents were taken from the Wodehouse novels, because it’s a totally different plot, they are nonetheless essentially his characters and a lot of the writing is his dialogue or a direct tribute to his dialogue. It is very Wodehouse-ian - and, hopefully, we caught that Wodehouse atmosphere, which I thing is almost - if you can use the word - immortal.

What do you think Wodehouse’s enduring appeal is?
His writing is like all great fiction, all great art really, it just continually finds a new generation of fans. It’s beautifully written and it’s full of wonderful heart and - in Wodehouse’s case - it’s a totally harmless art. It’s a joyful art that just embraces you and it’s such fun. You get the same feeling, I hope, watching By Jeeves as you do when you pick up one of his books, where you get that nice warm expectancy of, ‘good, we’re back with Jeeves and Wooster and he’s going to get into terrible trouble. And he’s not going to be able to find his way out of it, but Jeeves is there to help.’

You’ve worked with Roger frequently since the 1980s, but you’ve never directed specifically for his theatre the Old Laundry, what are your thoughts on that.
It’s quite nice to be directing at the Old Laundry Theatre for the first time. I don’t step outside much of Scarborough - and we’re rehearsing By Jeeves in Scarborough - so I’ll only be there for the tech week and launch. But I’m looking forward to it and as one of my rare forays outside of the SJT, it does confirm that I’m now totally freelance and free to go where I want.

What are your thoughts on the Old Laundry Theatre itself as it was modelled on the second of the SJT’s home in Scarborough?
It’s not only technically modelled on Westwood, but it also has the spirit of our old theatre in there. Roger built it in 1992, just before the SJT moved to its present home, and he really caught the spirit of the old building. So it feels like I’m going back in time to direction which is quite a strange feeling. It’s also nice to be working at one of the few theatres in the UK which are actively expanding. They are just going hell for leather in recent years and they had a very big success with Where’s Peter Rabbit last year, which was great to see.

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