Interview: Scarborough Evening News (1983)

This interview was published in the Scarborough Evening News on 27 September 1983.

Ayckbourn's Latest Is Comedy Thriller


Alan Ayckbourn breaks new ground with his 30th - and latest - play when it opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round.

He has written a comedy-thriller called
It Could Be Any One of Us, a most appropriate title, for once again the Scarborough playwright has conjured up a play with more than one possible ending. Not even the cast know "whodunnit" until playing cards are dealt out at random earlier in the action. The actors take their cue from whichever fateful card they receive.

Having introduced the idea of the multi-ending in
Sisterly Feelings and taken it to its limits in Intimate Exchanges, Mr Ayckbourn has opted to use it again to keep the audience guessing in It Could Be Any One of Us, but believes it will be the last time he employs the gimmick ending.

Although the move to new ground may be seen as a step forward, the comedy-thriller is really a step back for Mr Ayckbourn. He first pondered on the idea of writing a comedy-thriller when he wrote
Family Circles in 1970.

"There is a part in the play where, at one stage, it was thought that the mother and father were trying to kill each other. It was intriguing. I thought to myself, 'I must go back to that one of these days'."

Well over a decade later, he has produced the goods. He said: "Really, it is just another form of theatre I like. And I do not think many have been written over the last few years."

Love of the comedy-thriller was kindled in Mr Ayckbourn's younger days in Sussex, when he and his brother spent from 2 pm to 7pm at their local cinema about four times a week watching all the programmes at least twice. A lot of those films were comedies with a touch of suspense, in the vein of
The Cat and the Canary.

Since then he had been a keen fan of thriller writers Agatha Christie, P. D. James, and Naigo Marsh. After producing Michael Cashman's mystery comedy
Before Your Very Eyes at the theatre in summer, Mr Ayckbourn felt it was time to lock himself away and turn out his first comedy-thriller.

He set a date for the start of rehearsals - a Monday, began writing on the Saturday, tore up the first scene on Saturday night, wrote it again, felt happier, but in scene two decided it was not quite right and started all over again. He eventually delivered, a little late, much to the relief of the six-strong cast.

For
It Could Be Any One of Us, Mr Ayckbourn has hand-picked an acting team who have become part of the scenery at the theatre - Robin Herford, Lavinia Bertram, John Arthur, Graeme Eton, Ursula Jones, and Lisa Sadovy. He admits that when he is trying something different - as his new play is - he likes to have actors he knows, because their knowledge of each other helps a new idea click.

It Could Be Any One of Us, has, says Mr Ayckbourn, all the ingredients of the thriller - the large Gothic folly house covered in dust, the thunderstorm, the piano playing at night, and the inevitable power failure. He describes it as "suspenseful" and "fun".

"It was great fun to write, great fun to rehearse and, hopefully, great fun for people to watch."

Having written his first comedy-thriller, Mr Ayckbourn has now set his sights on "doing a real good creepie" like
Gaslight. [1]

Website Notes:
[1] Alan Ayckbourn's debut as a professional director was with a production of Patrick Hamilton's
Gaslight at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1961.

Copyright: Scarborough Evening News. 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.