Interview: Standard Star (15 April 1979)

This page reproduces some of Alan Ayckbourn's significant quotes from the interview.

England's Comic Master

By Jacques le Sourd

"I'm naturally nervous in New York anyway and since I always associate being in New York with opening a play, I'm doubly nervous."

"I always think of my characters as living in a town like Reading, which is about 25 or 30 miles from London. A really dreadful place. You go there and think - what happens in Reading? There's nothing there that could possibly inspire or encourage human life at all. Yet people surviving there may well be having a ball!"

"People loathe and love each other in all languages. Because I do deal with the primaries of life and death - the seven deadly sins come in quite a lot - the plays seem to have no particular boundaries. The things that have translated have been the human elements. I suppose I want less to dispense ideas than to dispense feelings, really understanding, towards people. Which I suppose is necessarily universal. My humour is not a matter of laughing at but laughing with or for people, saying, 'Oh God, I know how it feels.'"

"My belief is that there's nothing much that doesn't happen in the field that I explore; in fact, practically everything happens there that is important in human relationships. Of course, I don't include politicians making earth-shattering decisions in my plays. But
King Lear is a great play not because it's about a king but because it's a play about a man with daughters. One could write a domestic King Lear very easily, say about a proud old stockbroker."

"Nobody was writing for me [as an
actor], so I sat down to write myself a play. It was quite successful, as was the next, and it wasn't till the third play that I realised that my writing was improving but my acting wasn't. There was only one flaw in my plays, which was that the leading man - me - wasn't really good enough to carry them. So I stood back, gave up acting, and settled down to be a director-writer, which is a much nicer occupation. You can actually see television in the evenings occasionally."

"Scarborough does about 10 main-house plays and maybe another 10 small fringe productions - bar, lunchtime and late-night shows - each year. We've always been new-play oriented, and we do about 60 per cent new work. But because we're the only theatre in town we have to provide some sort of balanced diet, so we try to do the best of modern plays, a few classics and the rest is the usual sort of catholic mixture."

"I'm a working dramatist. I run a theatre, and for 51 weeks of the year I'm really directing and administering and working out the laundry lists for the theatre. It's small enough that I have to do all that, and I like it. I want to write plays that interest my actors - who are often working there for a much lower salary than they could get in television. I want to give them something rewarding to do, and at the same time I've got to keep my audience interested, and keep them coming in. I can't afford empty theatres. That's my immediate concern."

"I'm lucky that I write - when I actually write - very fast. It takes me about a year to get a play together, but for 48 weeks at that year I can carry on working normally. Then I take a month off, and for three weeks I unwind - or is it coil up? - and then I write the whole thing in a week. Then I go straight into the direction. So between the time of first writing and the opening night in Scarborough, not more than five weeks have elapsed."