Interview: Daily Mail (1983)

This interview was published in the Daily Mail on 15 November 1983.

Lost For Words, An Author Who Beat The Bard

By Patrick O'Neill

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn modestly regards the fact that his work is now more popular than Shakespeare's as much ado about nothing.

"I don't think anyone will be putting plaques up at my birthplace yet," says the scribe of Scarborough. The Arts Council recently revealed that Ayckbourn's plays were performed more often than the Bard's last year.

"It's very nice," he adds. "I just hope that in another 400 years my plays will have survived like his - to come second to someone else's."

Ayckbourn already outsells Brecht in Germany and has had more plays performed in the West End than Noël Coward.

"At the last count my plays had been translated into 23 languages, the latest being Cantonese, though I shudder to think what they sound like in Canton,' he adds. Why are his plays more popular than Shakespeare's?

"Mine, thank God, are not studied in schools, while his are turned into academic subjects. When people come to the theatre and see one of my plays, they know that in these dismal times they are guaranteed a little euphoria. I must admit that as I have developed, they have become spiced with something a little darker. If I have a gift, it is that I can make people laugh and also, I hope, make them think."

For Ayckbourn, comedy is the area of life that is beyond tragedy. "It always amazes me that they work as well on Broadway as they do in Scarborough."

His plays have made him rich, famous, and while other playwrights would have escaped to the fleshpots of Broadway or London, he remains content to run a 300-seat theatre in down-town Scarborough. It is there that his plays are born and given the toughest test of all - before Yorkshire holiday-makers.

Ayckbourn firmly believes that if a play works here, It will work anywhere in the world.

He is currently working on his next production, a musical called
The Seven Deadly Virtues, dedicated to the thought that an excess of virtue is as dangerous as an overdose of vice.

"We do things simply here," he adds. "I am not Interested in the glamorous life. Here I am always reminded of the fact that it takes ten years to build up an audience, but only three minutes to lose it if you do the wrong thing."

Copyright: Daily Mail. 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.