Interview: Daily Mail (1974)

This interview was published in the Daily Mail on 24 August 1974.

Upside Down Writer Has Another Hit Coming

by Christine Dunn

Alan Ayckbourn was lying on his bed, writing upside down as usual.

In the streets below, the Scarborough holidaymakers burrowed deeper into their mackintoshes, cursed the drizzle, and found solace in the matinees and bingo halls. Unaware that in the house in Longwestgate the horizontal outpourings of Mr Ayckbourn would provide insurance against just such a dismal day this time next year.

The award-winning playwright - his string of successes travelling via Scarborough and the West End to the rest of the world - was working on his latest comedy
Confusions and the odd lyric for the new musical Jeeves. That this artistic profusion had been born of Scarborough was no surprise - Ayckbourn readily admitted that the resort was his springboard.

He came there as an actor and then, because no one seemed to be writing roles to suit him, he began writing plays to suit himself. As director of productions
[1] at the Library Theatre he had a ready-made market: 'I have never written or begun writing a play without knowing that it was going to be produced.'

His theatre-in-the-round was as successful as his writing, so there was never any feeling of being third choice to the Cilla Black Show at the Futurist, or the Bachelors at the Floral Hall Theatre.

'My theatre,' he said, 'is the size of a postage stamp - with six actors and one set, but we've had a full house since early June and we can't do any better. Fortunately this place has a slightly dicey climate - we used to pray for rain after six o'clock in the old days - now there's no need. There is a limit to the times people can take in the usual seaside shows - so they come to us. And a proportion of the audience have never been to a real theatre before in their lives before.'

The West End hits
How The Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular, Absent Friends, etc. were tried out on holidaymakers before they entertained the sophisticated capital audiences. And even the occasional make-shift compromises of local rep have influenced their format.

Like the time when the leading man in
How The Other Half Loves slipped a disc and the understudy was on the beach somewhere and not to be found.

'I had to take over,' said Ayckbourn, 'and even though I'd written the thing I had to read the part. Then - disaster, the last page of the script had disappeared. I couldn't remember the ending - my mind was a complete blank and I began ad-libbing like mad. The girl playing opposite me was completely thrown and she went off too. We were both going round and round the houses and the electrician was doing the final fade trying to find the place in the script. It was quite mad but it turned out so well that in the end I changed the ending.

'Another time we put on a midnight matinee for charity at the Futuristic Theatre. It was terrible - all the comics refused to get off, they were doing Frankie Howerd jokes, but we had him there as well. My company put on the first act of Pinter's
The Birthday Party and the audience loved it for the first original jokes they'd heard all evening. The curtain didn't go down till 3.30 a.m. - the mayor was furious - people were asleep in their seats like the aftermath of an orgy. Frankie Howerd said: "Even God wouldn't make them laugh at this time of night."'

It was one of his fondest memories of East Coast culture. The kind of thing that could have happened only in a holiday town in the season. But all that may change. His company are planning to do a mobile show between Scarborough, Whitby, and Filey in the winter, bringing laughter to the locals who are normally too preoccupied during the summer months.

'In summer,' said Alan Ayckbourn, 'we have an embarrassment of entertainment - after that, nothing. We hope to change all that.'

Website Notes:
[1] At this point, Alan Ayckbourn had been appointed the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre; he had been the Director of Productions during 1969 and 1970, but that seasonally-appointed role was made redundant when Alan was appointed Artistic Director in 1972.
[2] Although Alan had officially retired as an actor in 1964, this is actually his final stage appearance. He took over the role of Frank Foster from Jeremy Franklin for several performances until the actor was fit for performance again.

Copyright: Daily Mail. This edited transcription and the end-notes have been compiled and researched by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.