Interview: Yorkshire Evening Post (1980)

This article was published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 14 October 1980.

The Stay-At-Home Star

by Anne Pickles

With 26 plays under his belt and a string of West End, national and international hits, Yorkshire writer Alan Ayckbourn can be placed on the very top branch of drama's tree of success. But when London box offices are buzzing over the latest Ayckbourn offering, this man will not be found basking in glory in some private box.

He is more likely to be hard at work in Scarborough's 300-seater
Theatre in the Round, preparing the next package for his loyal local audience. Alan Ayckbourn is to Scarborough what the Tower is to Blackpool. He is the stay-at-home big name with whom American tourists just love to rub shoulders in the theatre bar; the famous writer devoted name-droppers can take a peek at any day. And yet fame has hardly touched the shy writer who insists on opening his plays in his home town on the stage of his own theatre.

"I rarely go to my first nights in London," he said. "I am not a big city-animal and anyway I always think the National Theatre can manage without me - I'm needed here."

In 21 years Alan Ayckbourn, 41, has written 26 plays. Most have been resounding successes at home and abroad and have made him one of the country's richest playwrights. But his life style has barely changed since the days when he earned £8-a-week as a stage manager.

"I don't worry about money, I suppose that's the main difference," he said. "You can't be very grand in Scarborough. I've no Plutonium yacht or anything. I have a home here, I spend money on giving the odd party for the actors and I put money back into the theatre, which is how it should be."

Ayckbourn never wanted to be a playwright. "Originally I wanted to be a journalist or an
actor - both of which seemed glamorous at the time."

It was Stephen Joseph, Founder of Scarborough's Theatre in the Round, who persuaded Ayckbourn to try his hand at writing and at 19, the writer who later produced
The Norman Conquests, Absent Friends and Relatively Speaking penned his first work - a farce.

"Looking back it was a rash thing to start with but it earned me £47 and that seemed an enormous sum at the time."

The spell had been spun and Ayckbourn's self-imposed pressure urged him to write more. But when
Mr Whatnot, a play in mime, received appalling reviews in London in the early 1960s he began to wonder about his future as a writer and decided to give it all up. [1]

He went to the
BBC in Leeds as a radio drama producer and in the years that followed wrote his first big successes, Relatively Speaking and How The Other Half Loves. His association with Stephen Joseph led to Ayckbourn sharing his friend's passion for a new theatre project in Scarborough. When, with an Arts Council grant and more than a bit of a struggle the Library Theatre was established Joseph and Ayckbourn were at the helm. [2]

"When Stephen died I was the nearest thing to a successor. What we have in Scarborough is a living theatre with a living, breathing company. The theatre is very much a part of the community and is supported well by the people here. Scarborough doesn't go to sleep or die in the winter. When the tourists go home the social side of Scarborough blossoms out. I wouldn't move from Scarborough now, my home is here, my theatre is here. I am part of Scarborough's community. Actually I was born in London but Yorkshire has adopted me or perhaps I adopted Yorkshire".

Ayckbourn's latest London play
Taking Steps opened at the Lyric Theatre in early September. But the writer was more than 200 miles away enclosed in his seaside theatre putting the final touches to his next play, Season's Greetings, which recently opened in Scarborough, moved to London, and returns to Scarborough on October 28.

As director of productions at the Stephen Joseph Theatre he sees his duty as one of total commitment to his company and his Yorkshire Audiences. A big name with a little ego, the playwright's fame, success and wealth are incidental to his involvement of fulfilling a dream he shared with a good friend.

Website Notes:
[1] The London production of
Mr Whatnot took place in 1964 and in its immediate aftermath, Alan did consider giving up writing. However, by the time he began his new job at the BBC in 1965, he had already accepted a commission from the Library Theatre, Scarborough, to write a new play which would be Relatively Speaking, which premiered in July 1965.
[2] This is completely inaccurate. Stephen Joseph set up the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1955 and did not meet Alan Ayckbourn until 1957, when he was an 18 year old aspiring actor. Whilst Stephen was undoubtedly the most significant influence in Alan's life encouraging him to both write and direct, Alan did not run the Library Theatre until after Stephen's death in 1967 becoming Artistic Director in 1972.

Copyright: Yorkshire Evening Post. 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.