Interview: When & Where (19 November 1987)

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

New Bard Or Old Farce

by Carl Hindmarch

"One sets out to write plays to attract an audience in one sense. All my background has been in this theatre, and it always has been, and still is, very important to make money - not for the perpetrator - but for the company to be able to stage the next play. Although I've wonted to say things other than 'funny' things, I've always been pressured to say them in a way that would appeal to the widest possible audience."

"It's toeing the line between insulting your actors who have come a long way and work for very little, and who want to do something they feel is worthwhile - and entertaining an audience who have their reasons for coming, some because they believe that theatre has things to say about life and so on... and some because they want a good laugh and it's raining. It really is that level of theatre - which I have never objected to because I think the most interesting people to have in are the unconverted. The people who chose narrowly between you and the latest James Bond movie."

"I've been called a left-wing writer in right-wing clothing - which is a sort of definition."

"The new boys in the '50s didn't really help, didn't get an audience back in. It wasn't the sort of stuff to get you rolling in the aisles. I remember doing Pinter's
The Caretaker, and was talking to the local bobby afterwards, I said did you enjoy that, and he said 'No, I can get all of that at home'."

"I still wince when they say things like 'Well, we'll have to put on the odd Alan Ayckbourn or Agatha Christie.' I like to think, my plays have more to them than that. But if it gets people in, and is seen as accessible... I mean, i don't mind being popular."

"I've always said that you've got to have been in love once, and probably broken up once, before you can get anything out of my plays - they are about people who have been bitten by life a bit, and are just starting to sort something, themselves, out again. People relate to them more. Most of us, unless we are very dishonest, have difficult relationships. We expect a lot from people and can't and don't understand or appreciate them "

"I hope that, certainly with my latter plays, that most people even if they don't when they are in the theatre, carry something away. I've always been a little bit defensive about laughter - but I would be honest and say that a lot of my joy comes from making people laugh."

"Once you've done ten [plays] you begin to question the quality of the laughter - what they're laughing at and why you're making them laugh. The greatest laughter for me though is the laugh of recognition, not laughing at a gag line, but getting further in, to get the laughter from a genuine recognition."

"People ask me 'When are you going to write a serious play.' I mean I wrote my serious play when I was 17 and have since then progressed - thank God - to writing plays where I needn't be serious all the time. It's what I call the third eyelid. If you are assaulted by something which offends you, say mental health or sexuality, people shut their eyes. They can't actually look at it, and so the only people who are looking and listening sit there saying yes, yes, yes and agree already. It's also saying things acceptably - and so occasionally you think. 'Good, I said something then and you don't even know! said it'."

"Either you get a reputation for being Beckett (a lot of people haven't seen him but they all know he's different, a bit strange), or you have a reputation for being popular. People have written and said, 'Your plays are silly,' I mean, I don't know what play they saw. I mean they don't read marvellously - they're not great literary masterpieces, but I do believe that they work on stage. I was caught in the crossfire between two very different theatre movements, the Rattigans and Cowards, and the Osbournes and Pinters, and was equally impressed by both."

"Plays about very, very, very happy people are not very interesting. People desperately in love are wonderful - bless them - but they are not very interested in anything outside of each other. Being in love is private really, it's when they start scratching that it really becomes interesting. I wrote a play, called
Joking Apart, about the people who live next door who are wonderful, really nice people. She was beautiful and effortless, and he was tall and marvellous - everybody hated them, tried desperately to compete with them. It's the same old story, in that you get a washing machine like the guy round the corner and yet yours doesn't work. The funny thing is that when you write that down 85 pet cent of the audience think it's funny."

"We are all deeply concerned with the major issues of the world, and yet there is an element of powerlessness that makes the trivial things much more important. You only have to read the angst columns of newspapers to see the type of things people worry about."