Interview: Worthing Gazette & Herald (1986)

This interview was published in Worthing Gazette & Herald on 22 August 1986.

Alan Describes Connaught Days

by Colin Clark

Hit playwright Alan Ayckbourn, whose latest play,
Woman In Mind, is enjoying a two-week pre-West End premiere at Brighton's Theatre Royal until August 30, told me on Monday of his early days at Worthing's Connaught Theatre.

"I pulled a few strings on leaving school and was lucky enough to make my stage debut as a
spear-carrier in a play with Sir Donald Wolfit's company," he recalled. "Immediately after this, I used the 'old school-tie' approach for the second and final time when I visited Brighton to ask actor Robert Flemyng for possible work. He suggested Worthing's Connaught Theatre, then under the direction of Melville Gillam.

"So, in the late 1950s, with little knowledge and almost direct from school, I arrived at the Connaught as an acting stage manager. It was there that I learned so many aspects of theatre. In just one season I worked behind stage, sorted out 'props' and finally 'trod the boards'."

From the Connaught Theatre, Alan moved for a short time to Leatherhead before making his fortuitous decision to join the
Library Theatre, Scarborough [founded by Stephen Joseph]. It was here that his writing talent blossomed.

"I had written a little at school, but it was the rare attitude of Stephen Joseph that led to my becoming a fully-fledged playwright,'"he explained. "He encouraged all his actors to write, and in time, I realised that my writing was improving while my acting remained nothing spectacular.

"In time, I dropped the one for the sake of the other. I began writing works for the Scarborough theatre, became a devoted regionalist and eventually began
directing my own plays."

Talking of his writing technique, Alan told me, "There is a gestation period of about 11 months as I develop the plot and consider its dramatisation. Its actual birth in writing then takes about a fortnight."

Today, Alan is joint artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and
Woman In Mind is the 32nd work he has premiered at the theatre. [1]

Alan has firm views on the growing problems of "middle of the road" touring companies resulting from the Art Council's decision to starve them of money at the expense of ethnic and minority projects. He told me, "No-one can live on bread alone in the theatre; there has to be some meringue. Many art centres, claimed by many as 'centres of excellence' ended up providing nothing but a diet of protest, political or extreme 'message' works. I believe there has to be a balance."

Commenting on the Borough council decision to remove the Connaught's 1930s facade, Alan predicted, "In years to come, this action will be viewed as sacrilege."

Website Notes:
Woman In Mind was Alan Ayckbourn's 32nd full-length play, however only 29 of them had previously premiered in Scarborough.

Copyright: Worthing Gazette & Herald. 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.