Interview: Municipal Entertainment (May 1978)

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

Ayckbourn Of Scarborough

by Ian Watson

"Last year, I broke down in the middle. I actually got to a point in the play when I had to admit 'I simply can't go on, I don't know where we are,' 48 hours before we started reading it. And we turned back, to do my other trick. I was on page 46, or something, and I went back to page 23. [1] That's 23 pages thrown away, which is a hell of a lot of play: it was a third or a quarter of the play. That will happen, but I've got confidence in that and I'd hate to turn in a substandard work. But I've got Me Times Me Times Me [2], I can do that. Or The Sparrow, with a new title! And only about eight people will say 'Hey, I've seen this before.' I'll say, Well it's based on an original Czech folk story!"

"The trouble with theatre is it's so extreme. You either have a play like
Relatively Speaking that's done literally to death, practically, with millions of productions - which is very nice; or then you have a play that follows it, like The Sparrow, which obviously I don't believe, in retrospect, is as good a play, but it's only had three weeks in its life, those three weeks in Scarborough. It's probably worth a little more than that. At the time, the only reason it was suppressed was it was a bit like The Knack, somebody said. Since I hadn't seen The Knack I didn't realise. I've seen The Knack since. It's a bit like The Knack - it's got a girl in the lead, that's what it was. But so has Antony and Cleopatra, you know.''

"I think I was really very lucky, working with
Stephen Joseph early on in the theatre here, that I got my first eight plays done at all. They are the sort of workshop. I've no objection to people reading them, if they can find a copy. I do tend to be a bit Soviet and destroy them, 1984-like. But I honestly wouldn't like them done, because it's a bit like having your childhood snaps blown up for current publicity purposes."

"I like to have a problem, because I think it takes care of one aspect of the play. Take
Absurd Person Singular. I had the theme of the ascendancy of one couple and the decline of the other two, set it in the sitting room, started off as normal, and I think in terms of content it was quite interesting - you know, I'd got the couples sketched rather well. But there was an edge missing off it, and by transferring it into the kitchens - setting it backstage, as it were - one got an additional angle on it, which made it much more interesting. I think it lifted it from being a reasonable play into a better play. I do like to charge things. People assume that theatre is a very good medium just for people sitting down and discussing. Having worked in theatre, as a theatre person all my life, I do love to make use of the medium."

"Certainly, 80% of the productions I've seen of my plays have always been far too boisterous: that's the British idea of having a good time."

"I say 'I can't do that because I've already done it', and the little things that would delight me in the old days, like mistaken identity and confusion - the things, you know, that you write into plays - I would find pretty boring now. And there are certain aspects of humour that I no longer use. I mean I discipline myself. I never used to do much, but I would hate to use the double entendre, which I find an easy laugh. And I hate using puns because I find them easy; and I hate using sex jokes, because they're very easy. So you think 'What have I got left?' You know, I want to make jokes about things that aren't usually made jokes about. It's more that I want to discuss things that aren't usually discussed in comedies."

Website Notes:
[1] The play in question was
Ten Times Table; at the time it was a multi-location play but it became a single location play when he resumed writing from page 23.
[2]
Me Times Me Times Me was originally called The Story So Far… when it opened in Scarborough in 1970. It was then extensively re-written for two failed attempts to get into the West End under the titles Me Times Me Times Me and Me Times Me. It was re-written again as Family Circles, which opened at the Orange Tree, Richmond, in 1978.