Interview: What's On (1986)

This interview was published in What's On on 4 September 1986.

Ayckbourn In Action

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play - he's written more than thirty now - has just opened at the Vaudeville.
Woman In Mind stars Julia McKenzie, and it has already had signal success on tour. I talked to the playwright in his riverside eyrie in Wapping, and asked him first of all about the working methods that produced so many hit plays. Most of them are first presented in Scarborough, where Ayckbourn is artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round.

"I used to write very painstakingly in longhand, and in the early years when I was a hardworking actor in regional repertory theatres I worked late during the night and did the feeds for the babies too!

"The actual writing of a play rarely takes me long - I do it in a very concentrated period a few weeks before the rehearsals actually begin and often I work up to the last minute. That's the way I like to work.

Directing Methods
"I direct the plays at Scarborough and the act of writing and directing is actually a continual one. I used to work in longhand, followed by dictation, now I use a word processor, which might have been invented for a playwright, it is so very useful.

"It's marvellous for me anyway, I quite like technology when it's being used properly, and you stay firmly in command of the machine. I do like to keep a copy of the play on paper, however, and it is very important for me to be able to see the whole of a page when I am writing."

"My last play was written in Scarborough, and now I'm working on a new one for the
National Theatre which will be seen in the Olivier Theatre in May. That will be the first one not done in Yorkshire I think. [2]

"I've always
directed my own plays, in fact I am probably more experienced as a director than I am as a playwright [3]; I've done hundreds of plays in my time, five or six a year minimum in Scarborough alone. I've worked extensively with classics and new work, which I particularly like.

"I started directing my own plays in 1964. I've no wish whatsoever to appear in one of my own plays - in fact no desire to
act again ever. I find that acting, especially when you have got into direction, is something that becomes increasingly difficult to do. I would be no more able to be in a play now than fly through the air."

"I am very glad I did act because it has been the most enormous help in giving me insight both as a writer and director as to how actors think and feel. I find it exciting to see what an actor can do with a play of mine, and it is easy to fall in the trap of underestimating what an actor can bring to a speech of three words, as opposed to 35. This new play has been as exciting to work with as any of the others and the actors have stimulated me very much indeed."

Website Notes:
[1] Although Alan may have preferred and occasionally used the title Director Of Productions, he was actually appointed to the role of Artistic Director at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1972.
[2] It was actually the fourth play not to be premiered in Yorkshire following
Christmas V Mastermind (1962) and Mr Whatnot (1963) at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, and Jeeves (1975) at the Bristol Hippodrome prior to its transfer into the West End.
[3] Alan began directing in 1961 at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. He began directing his won work in 1965 with his seventh play,
Relatively Speaking.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. 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.