Interview: The Boston Globe (1970)

This interview was published in The Boston Globe on 7 March 1971.

English Comedy Gets US Translation

by Edgar J. Driscoll Jr.

At 31 he certainly isn't running scared. Nor need he. His comedies have been translated into many languages, and the prognosis for more of the same, quite obviously is good.

Still English playwright Alan Ayckbourn is keeping his fingers crossed until after his comedy,
How the Other Half Loves, opens at the Wilbur Theater Tuesday night. After all, you never know how London hits will be received on this side of the Atlantic.

Often what sparkles in Soho flops on Broadway he admits. And mindful of this, Ayckbourn is taking no chances. In fact, with this in mind, he has Americanized his London hit as much as he could. Topped it with American stars Phil Silvers and Sandy Dennis, too.
[1]

"We wanted to make this production as American as possible," the dark-haired, trim, six-foot actor and director as well as playwright, said in a interview at the Ritz-Carlton the other p.m. In addition to American actors and an American director (Gene Saks), "we've incorporated a lot of America lingo, too," he explained.

Why? - considering the play has been running in London since last August with Robert Morley in [Phil] Silver's part
[2] and has been enjoying Paris and Vienna productions as well. "So people over here can feel easy with the dialogue," he explained. "A mouthful of plums may seem normal to an Englishman, but not here.

"Gene Saks and I holed up for a week at the Savoy in London and worked the play over to adapt it to American audiences. It was a matter of fine tuning, actually. For the characters are international, I think. We changed the names of towns, inverted' dialogue... that sort of thing. Americans seem to put their verbs in different order, don't you think? In swapping lines, I was getting more and more American by the end of the week and Gene was getting more and more British.

"One of the biggest dangers playwrights undergo in crossing the Atlantic is assuming we have a similar language. In a way we don't. That's why we've written this show almost as a translation."

How the Other Half Loves, which comes here from a successful run in Washington, D.C., is Ayckbourn's first American fling and his second play to be produced in London. The first was Relatively Speaking, another comedy which ran nearly a year at the Duke of York Theater with Celia Johnson and Michael Hordern. Along with his latest one, it too is playing in Paris and has been produced in Germany, South America and Mexico.

Married to former British actress Christine Roland and the father of two boys, the good-looking quietly mod-dressed playwright has been called England's Neil Simon.

"I'm not sure Simon is flattered," Ayckbourn modestly says. "For he has very funny lines. Very quotable, too. One can go into a pub, pardon, bar, after theater and spout him. Still funny. American comedy makes much more emphasis on a punch line joke than in England. Mine is situation comedy, which is funny only in context of what has gone on before and is coming up in the play. There is a difference. It's rather the difference between American and British humor. As I say, Simon's dialogue is very quotable. Mine is not."

Has he ever written a straight play, not geared for laughs? "I've tried serious ones, but they always turn out comedies. I Ike to write about the smaller things in life, the things that occupy so many of us. And the barriers we set up for ourselves. How we derive each other and sometimes are very cruel to one another without meaning to be. My plays are about people trying to live together, really."

While
How The Other Half Loves, - produced by Michael Myerberg, Bridge and Eddie Kulukundis - is his American first, he has been here before. He turned this country (played Boston, too) as a schoolboy in The Haileybury School of England's production of Macbeth. The production, brought here under the auspices of the English Speaking Union, played various theaters and schools halls. "We had the time of our lives. We smoked and drank ourselves silly."

Ayckbourn comes by his love of the theater naturally. His grandmother was a male impersonator, his grandfather a Shakespearean actor, his late father was first violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra and his mother is a writer, "although she hasn't written much lately."

The playwright, whose new comedy involves three married couples, two members of which are involved in a random act of infidelity that has humorous consequences for all six, began
acting as soon as he finished school. Then, he started writing, chiefly so he could write "marvellous parts for myself." However, after one such play in summer stock, in which he played eight different parts, flopped, "I got over my megalomania and started writing for others," he says.

Now he has given up acting
[3] entirely, except for occasional stints with the Scarborough Theater-In-The-Round Company which he organised in Yorkshire's Scarborough [4], a coastal town about 300 miles northeast of London.

"We do all sorts of new plays there, and I usually try one of my own, which I direct. Working closely with actors and audiences is a wonderful way to team. Very different from writing a play in a library" explains this very non-bookish and engaging gent.

How The Other Half Loves will be here for two weeks prior to what he hopes will prove a lengthy Broadway run.

Website Notes:
[1] This was the first and last time Alan agreed to 'American-ise' one of his plays as he found the result very unsatisfactory. Unfortunately for many years (in fact not for almost 40 years), this version of the play was the only one published in and available to produce in North America. Now only the original version is available to produce.
[2] The North American premiere of
How The Other Half Loves notably featured Phil Silvers of television's Sgt. Bilko fames as Frank Foster; it was hoped this would help relaunch his acting career.
[3] Alan's final professional acting role was as Jerry Ryan in William Gibson's
Two For The Seesaw at Rotherham's Civic Theatre opposite his future wife, Heather Stoney. His only acting role subsequent to that was taking over the role of Frank Foster in How The Other Half Loves for several performances at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1969 when an actor injured his back.
[4] Although Alan was Director Of Productions at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, at this point, the company itself had been founded by Stephen Joseph in Scarborough in 1955.


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