Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

In this interview between Alan Ayckbourn and Simon Murgatroyd - later appointed the playwright's Archivist - the premiere of Alan and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves is discussed. It was originally published on 7 March 1996.

By Jeeves

Simon Murgatroyd: Jeeves was a notorious flop for you both, why have you returned to it?
Alan Ayckbourn:
We're very pleased and delighted that Andrew and I, after 20 years, have got together to review something that's haunted us both over the years. We’re determined to get it right and what better place than in the new theatre?

SM: Why do you think your first attempt at Wodehouse failed?
Andrew Lloyd Webber:
It was always a good idea, but I had no experience of working together with Alan and a good deal less experience of musicals than I have now. We both knew it was bad and we couldn't do anything about it. It looked so wrong and the more money was thrown at it the worse it got! It wasn't sensible, we forgot the first principle of simplicity.

Alan, although you’ve since written both the book and lyrics for numerous musicals, this was your first attempts at lyrics….
I remember having a very late supper with Tim [Rice – the original intended lyric writer] when we discussed the project and a couple of weeks later we found the lyric writer wasn't there! Tim said he didn't want to do it after all so Andrew said I could do the lyrics because that's a piece of cake. It's taken me 20 years to come to terms with that! They were the very first lyrics written by me.

So how have you altered the piece?
Alan sent me a totally new play except for the characters! There was a new story and totally new script. We had talked about Jeeves on and off for the past 20 years. This isn't a revival; it bears little resemblance to the original. Alan and I knew what interest there would be if we did it again and we don't want to make the same mistakes again. It's one of the most simple of musicals, with a small cast of 10 and a small orchestra of four. Most of the songs are newly composed, three have been kept.

Finally, there are going to be those who question the wisdom of opening the Stephen Joseph Theatre with a flop musical….
It's the show that will open the new theatre, I would not have put myself behind it if I thought it would close the theatre. I hope it'll be just the right show to do. It's light, it's fun and it's silly.

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