Interview: Unknown publication (1986)

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

National Ayckbourn

by Michael Leech

"Most of the plays are bespoke now before they are written. Michael Codron [his London producer] has usually expressed an interest in producing it, but the main thing is to do it at Scarborough first. I think this is the nineteenth one to follow that path. Having said that I have just written a play that is not for Scarborough. This is the one that will be done at the National Theatre. I think the score now stands at two for Stoke, and thirty-one for Scarborough. It's also unusual in that the play at the NT has to be written well ahead; I usually write just before we are due to start rehearsals. Next season Scarborough won't get a new play, but a revival of Time and Time Again. I think it's good that they get a rest from me as director and author-in-residence. What I needed to do was to get away from the sheer routine of organisation of a full-time theatre director's job. I love the writing, I love the directing, but even though I shall miss the day-to-day contact with the actors there, I am very glad that I am having this working sabbatical. And from Scarborough's point of view it's very good that I am seen to be doing something else and the theatre is running perfectly well without me. I was always afraid that in some circles grants of aid might be tagged to me. And I'd hate to think that when I left the theatre wasn't intact. We all know inside that it's a perfectly valid operation without my presence, but perhaps we need to tell our founding masters a little more clearly. I think I've always needed a theatre, but I've no way of knowing whether it had to be there. I think that it is the unlikeness of the location of the Stephen Joseph Theatre that has kept it going. In other places it might have been lured into a transfer situation or been polluted by London. I think it's a safe place - a very independent town on the end of a railway line. Artists who go there do so because they want to work, there's certainly nothing else in terms of money or kudos. I'm quite a strong regionalist, although I know it's easier for me than for some because I can go and work in the regions for piteous sums of money while I have an income coming in from plays, in essence I have a private income."

"I have a sort of yearly work pattern. I produce a new play every twelve months, and half of that time is spent literally stewing it in my head and stocking up on ideas and characters. So most of the year is gestation and then a little under two weeks is spent in writing it. I usually manage to hit the deadline just before we start rehearsing as I said. This way the act of writing and
directing is continual, which is the way I like to work. I used to write longhand, and then dictating to someone on a typewriter, followed by correction, and those three drafts could each take about three or four days. Now I work on a word-processor, which I actually like very much. It's marvellous, it could have been invented for a playwright, in fact I find myself wondering whatever else it could be used for! It allows me to get the initial ideas down, then I can go through it dozens of times correcting and shaping. I quite like technology, but I do worry a bit about keeping a record so in addition to two sets of discs I do keep a copy in good old print on paper, and that gives me a sense of relief. When I was an actor I used to write at night, partly because it was the only time I had and also because with young children we split the duties and I used to do the night feeds. I used to work round the clock when I was writing; I don't think I could do it now. but then it was rather fun. Since I entered the forties I've worked during the daytime which is actually quite new to me. The last three or four plays have all been done during the day. I've no urge to act again, and certainly I have no wish to take part in one of my own plays. I think acting is one of those things that, particularly when you gel into direction, becomes increasingly difficult to do. I could no more act now than fly through the air.

"I'm very glad that I did act for a time at
Worthing, Leatherhead and Oxford, and very early on with Donald Wolfit's company. It has given me invaluable insights into writing and directing for the theatre, because I can understand how actors normally think and feel, which is very helpful, when you come to directing them!"

"I don't write for individuals, even though I do call on them quite often. They're very good actors, that's what I really like. The old mistake that one still sometimes makes is to slightly underestimate what an actor can do with three words as opposed to thirty-five. In turn they excite me with what they do to a work of mine when I'm working with them, and that all feeds back. A lot of my plays are generated out of the sheer excitement of working with actors. It's interesting to have two bites of the cherry too. sometimes, as I've just had in directing
A Chorus of Disapproval first for the National and then for the West End with an almost completely new cast. Working with two extraordinary actors, first Michael Gambon then Colin Blakely on the same part, was very exciting because Colin came along and gave a totally different reading yet one that was absolutely valid. To have two performances of that calibre on the same play is just a wonderful gift to a writer. That's when it really is nice - when you've got all the added ingredients of an actor's personality, skills and charisma added to a part you've written; that can be really exciting."