Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview about Communicating Doors from 2004 is drawn from Alan Ayckbourn's personal correspondence held in The Ayckbourn Archive.

Communicating Doors

Perhaps a few words about your career as a playwright, how you started, your motivations and ambitions when you began.
Alan Ayckbourn:
I started my professional career as an aspiring actor, intending to work my way up the ladder, via stage management work. I began as a very junior student Assistant Stage Manager. I had written plays at school but mainly lighthearted short sketches for school revues, etc. Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to join Stephen Joseph's recently formed Theatre In-the-Round company in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He had started it for two reasons:- first, to introduce (or as he would put in) to re-introduce the Theatre-in-the-Round form of staging back into Britain and, second, to establish a company specialising in new, experimental 'popular' writing. Although there were, even in those days, one or two new writing companies, Stephen's differed in that he was to encourage the writing from within the company itself, rather than searching outside for sources of writing; hence the actors, stage management, box ounce assistants - anyone who was capable of putting pen to paper. Hearing of my earlier attempts, in 1959 he asked me to write a play, which I promptly did. lt featured a strong acting role for myself and was moderately successful - possibly because it was a farce - always a popular genre for a seaside venue in mid season. I continued along this course, blatantly using this heaven-sent writing opportunity to further my acting career. After four or five plays, though, the writer sacked the actor. I had developed far enough as a playwright to realise that the acting was actually holding up a stronger and more promising, not to say lucrative, career. I have never acted since. For Stephen, aware of my dilemma, also introduced me to the joys of directing. A few years later the two careers happily combined and, from the early 60's the writing/directing combination continues to this day.

What are your interests as a playwright, what are you aiming to achieve?
My interests remain very much as they were back then. To write entertaining plays which bring in large audiences and generate not only enough money to pay the actors but sufficiently rewarding parts for them to play, My interest is purely Theatre. I enjoy the other media, especially film, but have never been drawn to it as a writer. Possibly because most of my plays, in varying ways, are really movies translated to the stage. Not always consciously - but film was my strongest influence when I was young, very seldom theatre, and has remained with me ever since. My brief has gradually widened over the years as I gained confidence to write deeper and darker pieces, My later work is less frenetic than my early attempts, more character driven.

What inspired you to write Communicating Doors?
The theme. What it would be like to live your life over again. How chance meetings with strangers can alter our lives (God knows what would have happened to me ill hadn't met Stephen Joseph, for instance). l'm a great believer in the fact that, if we're lucky, most of us are presented with sudden opportunities in life. Sometimes quite brief and fleeting windows of chance. That's the lucky bit. Some of us get more than others and that's also the luck of the draw. Being in the right place at the right time. The skilful bit is to grab hold of these opportunities and not to miss or ignore them or let them slip through your fingers. This sometimes takes courage, even a certain degree of what-the-hell recklessness.

How would you describe the play?
It's a romance, a comedy, a thriller, a sci-fi adventure story, and a morality play. A story of an unlikely friendship between two totally opposite women. During the play, desipte an initial mistrust, they both learn a lot from each other.

Was this a departure from your normal style and subject matter?
All those elements have featured separately at various stages in my earlier work but here they're dramatically brought together. lt is, after all, one of the more 'filmic' of all my plays. The references are numerous. Psycho and any number of Hitchcock movies for a start.

How do you feel the play was received by audiences when first performed? Was it everything you had hoped?
Is any play's reception what one hopes for? I think they're always bound to fall short somewhere which explains why I continue writing. In the vain hope that one day l'II get it absolutely dead right. And then, of course, l'II stop altogether and grow vegetables instead.

And how do you feel it has fared over time? Is there anything particular or different it can say to modern audiences?
I think it's fared pretty well, considering. Being a largely futuristic play it hasn't dated that much. It's mainly about people and people don't change much

Have you or had you then a particular interest in time travel?
I read a lot of sci-fi when I was young. I quickly realised that the best writers always used their futuristic or fantasy landscapes as metaphors for today. The scenarios they described were often those that warned against or proposed alternative existences. The parables of our time.

Have you seen many productions of the play around the world. Any favourites or particularly interesting versions?
You know, I never see other versions of my work - or very rarely these days. I do the first and maybe the second production and then maybe 20 years Iater l revive them, if I feel they're worth reviving, but generally l'm more interested in what's possibly coming next to worry about the one l've just written. And I am rare in that, being a playwright / director, l do have very strong visual images of how a play should look and sound. Unsurprisingly, these don't always coincide with the views of other directors. True, thankfully people seem to enjoy these alternative visions of my work but often to me, they are like chalk on a blackboard.

Any unusual stories or anecdotes associated with the play you'd like to share?
No anecdotes that I can recall. We had a lot of fun with it. And the actresses claimed it was impossible to learn. And I said something helpful to them like 'get on with it and stop whingeing'. Audiences seemed to enjoy it, too. They laughed a lot and we even managed to make them scream once or twice. l enjoyed that.

Anything else you'd like to add for your audience?
I hope you enjoy the play. Have fun! That's why I wrote it.

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