Interview: Vogue (April 1975)

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

The Ayckbourn Conquests

"I refuse to write small parts simply because I hated playing the things. I didn't mind parts where you are off for an act; that's lovely. But parts like postmen, where you have to get all the drag on and trudge on and deliver a letter and trudge off again and that was your life, I've always tried to avoid. In the same way I hated playing parts where you were sitting around with nothing to do in the scene. It's part of being a good technician to be able to write plays where that doesn't happen. But it was something that I always set out to do. Because, as soon as an actor can sit on a stage saying 'What the hell am I doing here?' the audience gets bored with him too."

"I like theatres to be full of people, and I like plays to be done a lot."

"Most of my audience in Scarborough I suspect, particularly in summer, are not theatre-going people. They go because they're on holiday and would never dream of visiting their local rep, or very rarely. They're telly-orientated and used to close-ups. They want to see what's going on. In the round, even if we have five hundred seats, nobody would be more than eight rows away. They'd be almost within touching distance of the actors, which is terribly important. It gives this bond for the sort of work we do that brings out the celebratory element in theatre: the gathering together of people to enjoy an event. One sees this in very positive terms when we're doing a comedy in summer in which you get a laugh from the audience from both sides of the auditorium, and then each side sees the other laughing and it lifts the laugh again, and it's a shared experience. It's a wonderful thing. You can get these cannon laughs, which to a new actor in the round are quite confusing, where the laugh will apparently rocket backwards and forwards across the stage in stereo for a long time."

"There are one or two notable critics who get very upset by my stuff, because they think it's laughing at the best of human nature. But in fact it's saying that it's sad that people can try to be nice and it sometimes doesn't work… I think that a lot of the worst things that happen in life are a result of very well-meaning actions."

"I tend to be optimistic about people anyway. I always assume they're nice until they've finally stolen my wallet. I believe basically that most people do bad things to each other mainly because of fear."

"When I was a sort of struggling writer my agent, bless her, would say there were some bread and butter jobs going like
Z-Cars for television, but I could never get on to that level of writing. The cars would blow up or something. Now I've got to the stage when I don't even have to think about the comedy at all. I write what is for me perfectly serious and then the typist types it out and says that it's very funny and I say 'Oh, is it?'."

"I've got a thing about very witty people - I don't really write very many of them. You know there are some plays where everyone is terribly funny all the time and has an immense sense of humour. I get plays sent me from Scarborough where people say hysterical things. Some very unlikely cove, like Second Man in the Labour Exchange, will suddenly turn in a really witty piece of repartee, and one thinks he could never have done that, not at that speed. All right, if he's been established as a man who could, but they're all doing it, all these fellows in the dole queue, with tremendously witty lines."

"A great influence on me has been Harold Pinter. Not particularly what he's written about, but the way he's seen things and allowed his own viewpoint on something to warp it slightly. Then there's his love of picking up phrases, like a poet. He finds a phrase like 'going the whole hog'. There's one of those in
The Homecoming. And he just keeps repeating this phrase, which people do in conversation. But then he puts in one too many, which just tips it over into being very funny. That's a trick in a way, but it's also a great ability to hear these phrases and isolate them. Actually, if you listen to a conversation at the next table, which I'm very fond of doing, you may not hear all the words but you'll hear this salient phrase coming back."

"Scarborough is a wonderful place to eavesdrop. The roads are full of hysterical scenes. People on holiday are generally much funnier than they are at home. They feel they ought to be enjoying themselves but there's always some pandemonium going on - like they're locked out of their digs, or can't even remember where they are, or they've lost the coach station. One probably sees a rather heightened version of the English at play. I love things when they're set up and go wrong; there's something very funny about human dignity. Civic occasions are wonderful in small towns, too, because they don't quite have the Lord Chancellor to organise them. So vases of flowers fall over. Every summer in Scarborough I always go to the Mayor's tent. It always rains, and the Mayor and Mayoress sit there and nobody turns up. There's a great pile of sandwiches, the band's playing, the cricketers are cursing, and everything's a washout."

"My mother was a successful short story writer for women's magazines, and I spent a lot of my childhood sitting in offices in Fleet Street waiting for her to discuss a deal… I spent the rest of my childhood in Sussex, moving from bank flat to bank flat, which is where I suppose I gathered most of my diagrams for my characters later - that sort of surrounding."

Donald Wolfit employed me because I'd been in the cadet force and could be guaranteed not to faint for forty minutes on parade. The last bloke had fainted on him in his big scene. So I stood there and watched him act every night, watched him cursing the audience upstage. I was green as anything… the amazing Mr Wolfit, as he was then. I thought all actors were like that."

"I was always worrying about the whole scene, when as an
actor I should have been worrying about my part in it. But, being so objective, one reached the stage of looking at one's own acting abilities and saying 'I'm never going to be as good as I want to be.' However, when Stephen Joseph at Scarborough gave me my first writing opportunity on condition I act in my own play, I wrote myself a super part. In fact, my first plays were all plays attempting to further my career as an actor. They were all shameless vehicles."