Interview: Los Angeles Times (5 October 1975)

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

Ayckbourn: Simon With A Stiff Upper-Lip

by Irving Wardle

"Unless I can see my play announced, I won't write it."

"It [
The Norman Conquests] started at the Sheffield Playhouse, where they have a main auditorium and a studio theatre. I breezed in there one day to see the director, and he asked me for a play. I said fine, (I always say fine to everybody.) Twenty minutes later the Studio theatre director asked me for a play, and I said fine again. I then thought it would be a lovely joke to have a play going on In the big house and the offstage action going on in the studio, with the actors cross-fertilising. [3] Well, nothing came of that, but at the end of the Scarborough season the local press boy came bounding up the stairs and asked what I'd got planned for next year. I said, dunno, might finish up with a trilogy. So there was a note in the paper. Trilogy Eagerly Expected. I didn't put a denial in. I thought since the gods have said that, let's have a go."

The Norman Conquests took something ridiculous like 10 days (a normal-length play takes me three or four days), but It's a round-the-clock operation, like a prolonged delivery. I start early in the evening and I write through to 6 in the morning and then sleep. In the afternoon I dictate from scrawled notes onto a typewriter, which gets all the dialogue spoken: and then come on again In the evening from what we've typed up. If anything Interrupts the flow, the play's doomed. If I have to leave a play for two days, it's out of the window, With the The Norman Conquests there came the great day when I finished two plays on one night, the first and last time I'll do that."

"Norman the character illustrates to me the game that often goes on between men and women where a man spends an incredible amount of time setting up an elaborate act for the woman's benefit. The woman sees through it. and likes him despite the act. But the man continues to think it's his act that's doing the trick. Norman is patently the most transparent man in the world. He's like someone I knew who was a total failure with a disastrous marriage, but a tremendous live-wire to meet socially. Delightful, but not for very long. Norman's the wild card among these English limbo people I carry with me from childhood: the lapsed middle-class. It's a rich comic area."

"I had a running battle against English comedy playing when I was in rep. The director would say, right, 'well play it twice as fast and twice as brightly.' And the last scene you play terribly fast and terribly brightly - that's comedy. But when you see a great actress like Celia Johnson you realise what comedy is about. During the run of
Relatively Speaking she played Mrs. Alvlng in a television production of Ibsen's Ghosts. There was only a hair's breadth difference between the two performances. She was walking along a razor blade. If she'd stepped this side as Mrs. Alving she'd have had everyone in hoots of laughter. And in the same way she could have had them crying in Relatively Speaking."

"Actors will tell you that my plays are variable. On some nights it's like carnival time. On others there are silent people staring at you weirdly. And once you set yourself up for the big laugh and it doesn't come, all the reality's gone. I tend to avoid actors who think they're good at comedy."

" Being moved by a play can actually make you like human beings a bit more. But there are a lot of plays around that make you like people less. I like to come out of a theatre feeling warm. It's just a personal taste."