Interview: New Manchester Review (22 February 1980)

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

A Cottage Industry In Scarborough

by Irene McManus

"It takes me two weeks to write a play. I write it in longhand. The only reason I do it so quickly is because I loathe it. I hate it. The only bit I enjoy writing is getting to the actors with it. I have a typist who - she's more than a typist - she's a sort of person who follows my inflections - who types up to my dictation. Heather
[1]. And then at the end of that period I'll probably do a third revision. We're a cottage industry. I like the bit of reading the play, rehearsing it, and getting it on. I'm not very interested after that. I quite like the first few nights. But plays recede like galaxies into the distance."

Ayckbourn also hates going to the theatre - though he's interested in the work his fellow playwrights are turning out:

''I don't see them [plays by other writers]. I read them. I don't actually like going to the theatre very much. I spend so long sitting in an auditorium. I love going to the cinema. I love going to music, or anything but straight theatre. Sometimes I'm sitting there in the theatre thinking if I have to watch acting anymore, even good acting, I shall go barmy. I read what comes out, just to see what the opposition's up to. My agent represents most of them. I mean, I've read
Night and Day, but I haven't seen it. It's not uncommon. David Hare, for instance, the other day, said I've read your latest, like it very much. You think: oh, that's nice, dunno how he got a copy, but he got it. Then I suppose as a theatre director you gotta find out what's going. You've gotta give them something of the modern dramatists, not just yourself".

"I've been overpraised grossly, and under-praised extraordinarily, too.
The Norman Conquests has been greatly overpraised. But on the other hand Joking Apart and Just Between Ourselves and Absent Friends have all been missed out, because they weren't expecting to see that."

"It's rare, I suppose, for a writer to be popular in his own lifetime and also, hopefully, reasonably - er - intelligent. I mean, most of the intelligent ones have to wait till they're dead..."

"I think I do work very hard. Certainly appears hard work to me. I haven't had a holiday for years. I don't actually like them, so it doesn't really bother me. I actually go barmy on holiday. My idea of a holiday is to sit at home."

"I'm a great Harold Pinter freak. I think the secret to him is he's a poet who writes plays. The way he scripts his stuff is much more stylised than my stuff. I mean, he writes in a very much heightened way usually. But what he does have is a love of certain words which he repeats and shapes. There's one of his plays about going the 'whole hog', and he keeps 'whole hogging' it. And there's a speech where he says 'whole hog' about nine times. I've picked that habit up from him. There's an opening line in
Relatively Speaking - which is probably greatly influenced by him - where a man says 'I can't say I'm very taken with this marmalade'. It's that sort of elliptical writing which I love, and which he does quite a lot of. Deliberately. And I still do that."

"Most political writers have got their hearts in the right place, but their talents in the wrong place. Trevor Griffiths is a writer I Iike very much, 'cos I think he's a damn good technician. I'm a sort of theatre purist. I don't think you should use the theatre - I think you should let the theatre use you. Often people just put a tub up in the middle of a theatre and think they can make it work. I think that's going. The new brand of writers, the Poliakoffs and people like that, all seem to me to have come back to structure. And I'm very pleased, 'cos it might bring the audience back. Most of the audience want to be told stories. If a story happens to say at the end that bad men are bad, that's jolly good. But mostly they want the story."

"Politicians drive me absolutely barmy. I'm an anarchist. I've sat through 15 General Elections and seen the same pattern going on every time. I used to vote. I voted alternately, Labour, Liberal, Conservative. I thought, one of them must be right. All of them were wrong. But this lot are worse than the last lot. The next lot'll be worse than this lot. Don't want to depress you, but…."

"Most of my plays are about what people don't say, because I write about the English, who don't say very much. They imply a lot. And they hint at a lot. Throwing biscuits? Happens as soon as you love somebody: you decide you wanna hit 'em. Well, not always. But a lot of people have struck someone. And always someone you're fond of. Or have been fond of. Or want to be fond of. It seems to me mostly that that's what happens. And that they're usually of a different sex."

"My wife and I, now we're apart, are very fond of each other indeed. And see each other a lot."

"What I tend to do is blithely say when my next show is likely to be. At the moment I've said that roughly next September I'll deliver another one. Between now and next September I hope to God I come up with an idea. I have to think of the title in advance because of the publicity people. There have been occasions when the title has nothing to do with the play. At all."