Interview: Northern Echo (21 April 1984)

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

Alan Plays On Our Funny Antics

by Jane Lomas

"Not so long ago I was watching four wives and their husbands. t was terribly interesting. The wives arrived first, sat at the table with their drinks and were squealing with laughter and having a wonderful natter. Then the men arrived, obviously having been at the pub. The interesting thing was the way the women changed. There was a lot of roguish 'I'd like to see you without them' conversation and as the evening drew to a close, there was almost an audible sigh of relief. The women got back together again and the men went hack to the bar. It was an excellent evening. As couples they got on fine, but as a group they wanted to see their own sex. But if they bad, they wouldn't have felt right about it."

"I hate London. I go there under protest, shut my eyes, gel through what I have to do and get away as soon as possible. It's a sleazy old place now."

"If you're a people-watcher in a village you run out of people, in a city it becomes very anonymous and you can't find the core to it. Everything that happens in Birmingham happens in Scarborough but on a small scale. You can see the rise and fall of the bright boys, you can watch the couples coming together, separating, re-shifting. And then you're just struck by the nice people here. They really are lovely."

"I don't think I'm a pessimist but as you write more and more about people and less and less about situations it is inevitable you are going to rub up the dark side. People do have dark sides, they do tend to hurt each other."

"Funerals are inadvertently very funny. State occasions are funny where you trip on carpets or where the men aren't used to wearing swords. The more people take themselves seriously, the funnier they can be. Someone who is terribly angry can be terribly funny. The comedy is always there and I think it's quite chastening that we are funny."

"I admire the [Greenham Common] women
[1] because they are putting up with an incredible amount for what they believe in and I wouldn't drive bulldozers at them. But I wouldn't honestly want to join them. I trust the Russians about quarter of an inch, the Americans about half an inch and I wouldn't trust the French to cross the Channel!"

"It [the women's movement] has changed my plays. It's not that women have got any better but that men have got worse. Whereas women are finding their rope, men are losing theirs. Take a 45-year-old like me. You gave up your seat on the bus for women, opened doors, helped them off coaches. Then came the new breed. If you opened a door for the ultra-aggressive ones, you would get kicked in the shins for thinking they couldn't do it for themselves. Then you slam the door which seems rather rude and then you leave it. Of course there's a serious basis - problems of the home, who looks after the kids etc. I think the new generation are coping, it's those who are caught in the middle of two worlds."

"I hate it [writing]. It's awful. So lonely. No-one can help you at all. And I'm not a confident writer. I am beset by doubts. It's only the terror of the deadline that gets me there."

"We are catering to the souls and spirits of people. A country without art of any sort isn't worth living in. However good the roads and hospitals are, you are dying somewhere else. We have got to get people back to the. theatre. We've got to be entertaining, I don't mean they've got to sit there laughing themselves silly but that their minds and emotions have been engaged, that they come out feeling as they have been in an emotional sauna."

"You've got to get rid of this curse class thing, that it's the preserve of the middle class professional people. They are welcome, they are our backbone but it's nonsense to say it's beyond the grasp of those who sit down and watch convoluted pieces on television. We have to say to them: 'Do come, it's not like standing up in church when everyone else is sitting down. You can have a good laugh… there's a bar."

"The thing about our theatre and any theatre is that if you have had a successful evening and the house has been big and responsive, it's like a giant party that you have thrown for 300 comparative strangers. They go out drunk on whatever they have seen and that's a really lovely feeling. I'm a great audience-watcher. I have seen 300 people come in in wet macs when the baby-sitter was late, or they've had an argument or a bad day at work. If the play has worked, it spread like an infection and, by the end, they are all bouncing. That's what my theatre is about. It's that feeling I had as a kid that excited anticipation."

"I suppose I've held on pretty well as fashions in the theatre are a bit like hemlines."

Website Notes:
[1] Alan is referring to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp established in 1981 to protest at the British Government's decision to allow nuclear warheads to be stored at RAF Greenham Common. The camp frequently made headlines during the period particularly following the first blockade of the base in 1982 and was active until 2000.