Interview: The Times (18 August 1982)

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

Still Hoping For Heroes

by Bryan Appleyard

"I set this play [Way Upstream] in a boat because a vast proportion of Britons are stupid enough to believe they come from a seafaring race who go out on the Broads and ram each other."

"If you boil down your themes they sound terribly banal. Mainly I want to say things about the fear and distrust people have for each other, the fact that men and women still don't seem to understand each other very well. There are too many people in the world who are likely to leave important decisions they should make until far too late.Then they let people - people whom I think are grossly irresponsible if more passionately convicted - do it for them. So people get caught up in war or whatever just because they didn't say things they should have said. And in Britain eventually we could get an extreme left or right government simply because the people in the middle are not prepared to stand up - I don't want this to sound like an argument for the SDP."

His words have a habit of pursuing themselves back and forth between-jokes and semi-visionary worries about a collapsing society. The dark side of Ayckbourn for which the critics have been calling has always been there. It is just that his effortless dramatic technique and inescapable comic talent - the theatrical equivalent of his amiably fluent conversation - have prompted them to demand more. Is it not time we had Ayckboum's
Hamlet? But he has persisted in ploughing a narrow furrow, inspired by an actor's sense of what the public wants and a pragmatic desire first to fill the theatre and second to convince his audience.

"The first thing is to get people in [to theatres]. Once you've got them in and once you've kept their minds wedged open - it's the easiest thing in the world to say something punishing and serious so that everybody clams up anyway and the only ones who are clapping are the converted - then the trick is to say important things to them and to keep them listening."

"I feel threatened by the fact that the fabric of society is under tremendous tension at the moment. Occasionally you get the odd Toxteth or bomb in the Park
[2] - we all forget it very quickly, thank God - but it keeps occurring."

"I used to think there was no such thing as evil - one used to think it was just bad upbringing or something - but some people are just plain horrible and they take delight and pleasure from it. There are some extremely evil people walking around and there are some extremely good people walking around. I suppose it's not a particularly startling revelation for a man of 42 - some kids of eight could tell you as much - but before I just sort of liberalled along saying these people haven't had enough bread and butter. Really some sort of opposition is necessary."

"What the extreme left and the extreme right have in common is absolutely no sense of humour. Perhaps I can spread a sense of balance through comedy. I don't think it will do very much. It's like throwing a bucket of sand on a forest fire, but it might serve to save a small proportion."