Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview from 2012 about A Small Family Business is held in The Ayckbourn Archive. No other details are known.

A Small Family Business

Where do you get your inspiration for the plays?
Alan Ayckbourn:
Honestly, that is the one question I find almost impossible to answer. I have often said that if I knew the simple answer to that I wouldn’t tell anyone else in case they started to raid the store!
Seriously, most writers will tell you the most difficult moment in any literary work is waiting for the initial idea. It’s probably the same with any art form, I don’t know. My ideas arrive from a variety of sources. From casual conversations, newspaper articles, TV news programmes and sometimes occasionally inside my head as a result of a ‘random’ collision of disparate, disconnected ideas. All I can tell you is it’s the one element in the process which is entirely beyond my control. Once the idea is there - then the rest is hard work, really. Plus a little further inspiration.

Do you want to change society with your plays?
I never set out to change society through my plays. Heaven forbid! That is far too grand, far too enormous a task for a mere play to hope to achieve. Where I think the play I hope may possibly have influence is occasionally on the individual. To give a single audience member the glimpse of another point of view, an opportunity to see some problem in their lives objectively or from a different angle.

Are there similarities between the characters in A Small Family Business and real persons?
The characters in A Small Family Business are, like all my characters, drawn largely from myself with occasional reference to people, past and present, in my personal life. But there are no actual studies from real life, no full length portraits of family or friends and certainly nothing remotely completely autobiographical. I think people, sadly, don’t change that much or at any rate for the better! People today are still behaving very much in the same way as those in the 1987 play. So much for plays changing society.

A Small Family Business is essentially a morality play in which a character, Jack, starts out as pure as driven snow, as we say, gradually and initially with the best intentions, compromises his beliefs in pursuit of self interest.

It was a play born very much out of the climate at that time with Thatcher’s Britain in full rampant unstoppable flow. That philosophy of putting self first, society second, of every man for himself, is still very much alive. Rather than changing it has grown - witness the recent world wide financial crises - and is an ingrown norm in our society.

An anecdote:- During the run of the production at the National Theatre, a friend told me a story which illustrates this point. My friend found himself sitting next to a distinguished politician at a dinner one evening, indeed this person was a member of Thatcher’s cabinet. The politician mentioned he had seen
A Small Family Business a few nights earlier and said he found the play absolutely hilarious from start to finish. He’d never laughed so much in his life. My friend was a little puzzled by this reaction, fearing the politician may have rather missed the point of the play, and pointed out that occasionally the story got rather dark (including at one stage a bloody murder onstage!) and that also the ending was really quite tragic with the younger daughter, Sammy, whom her father had set out to protect at the beginning, now in the final throes of heroin addiction. Drugs moreover that Jack had very probably been responsible for importing, thus indirectly causing the death of his own daughter. The politician roared with laughter and said, “Yes, but we all saw that coming, didn’t we?”

Change the world? I wish.

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