Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview regarding the 2006 revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges is drawn from the playwright's personal correspondence and is held in The Ayckbourn Archive.

Intimate Exchanges

Interviewer: Where do you place this series of plays in the 70 you've written to date? Would you say it was some of your best work?
Alan Ayckbourn:
I can't really pass judgement on my own work. It's like a parent declaring one child uglier or prettier than another. It's something I was pleased with when l wrote it, something I wasn't experienced enough to have written before, and something l'm not interested or probably capable of writing now!

How is writing plays in the 2000s different to writing in the 1980s?
In my case, following my stroke last year, harder. Also with quite such a large, mainly successful backlog of work as l have, the choices of subject, treatment and approach just become harder. You get more aware of the hazards ahead.

What were your artistic influences during the 1980s?
What they always had been. In no particular order, Pinter, Chekhov, Ibsen, Ben Travers, Jean Anouilh, Ionesco, Pirandello, Rene Clair, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, every single movie I ever saw as a child, the radio Goon Shows, Hancock and my own confused private life.

Would you consider writing a series of plays in the same format as Intimate Exchanges again?
Would that I could!

Did you set out to write a set of plays which would be technically difficult to perform?
Not deliberately, no. l've always started out with a dramatic theme or premise and looked for the best way to reach the best presentational solution, the best way to stage it. From my past experiences in theatre, l have learnt always to remain, at the very least, practical. l never try to set the stage and technical team staging problems which I wouldn't have relished solving myself.

Other than their undoubted ability, what have the actors Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhirst been able to bring to Intimate Exchanges?
Intelligence, sensitivity, understanding and sympathy, timing, dedication, professionalism, all spiced with a good sense of fun. Everything I look for in an actor. They're great.

Which is your favourite play in the series?
l'm not telling.

Were any of the plays more difficult to write?
Not really. They probably just got progressively harder, that's all, I can't remember.

Does living in Scarborough influence your writing?
l'm not consciously aware of it. It's of a size and location that suits my writing (i.e.neither a tiny village nor a huge city) and I suppose combined with an association with the town of 50 years, it must have done.

Intimate Exchanges marked your 25th year in the town, how has the past 25 years compared to your first 25 years?
I first came to Scarborough in 1957, when I was 18. So it's hard to tell. Obviously your perception of a place changes as you grow older. My first impression was of me as an impatient young man in a hurry constantly being obstructed by cankerous old gits in panama hats, swiping you out of the way with their walking sticks. 50 years on l've joined the old gits complete with my own walking stick and baseball cap.

Do you think audiences have reacted differently to Intimate Exchanges in 2007 than in 1982?
I think that their perception of me as a writer has changed a little. I now have the reputation of leading audiences into darker more disturbingn places than I did previously. Woman in Mind, Private Fears in Public Places, to cite two instances amongst many. But the signs were there before Intimate Exchanges (Absent Friends, Just Between Ourselves). Thus I think our approach to the plays, director and actors, has changed too. We're allowing the light and the shade in the plays to develop more. There's a good deal of sadness in them. Giving, I hope, the experience a greater depth than any of us quite had the confidence to pursue before. After all what really matters is to ensure an audience is to not going to commit their affections and loyalties to characters they can't ultimately fully believe in.

Are American audiences more appreciative of your work than British audiences?
About the same, on average. When they're enthusiastic they are very enthusiastic. When they're not, best get out of town quick. Our theatre is still quite class ridden. in this country, generally you feel you're either of the theatre-going class and age, or you're not. it's something l've always tried to fight. Partly it's perception, partly pre-conception. In the States, it's largely money driven, you're either rich enough to afford regular theatre going, or you're not.

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