Interview: Cambridge Evening News (1988)

This interview was published in the Cambridge Evening News on 13 May 1988.

Alan Finds The Right Balance

by Ian Macfarlane

Despite his enormous success throughout the world as a playwright, Alan Ayckbourn still has his roots firmly bedded in the seaside town of Scarborough.

With more than 30 international hit comedies, translated into 24 languages, this amiable fellow could justifiably regard the world of theatre as his oyster.

Happiness is his ability to write a successful play. Bliss is the
Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round where he is artistic director, and where all the world premiere productions of his plays are staged.

In Cambridge, where his theatre company is performing
Henceforward… at the Arts Theatre, he spoke of the perfect balance he has reached between writing plays and being an artistic director.

"People think it's wonderful that I happen to have Scarborough, but the fact is that I got the theatre because the man I most admired,
Stephen Joseph, died, and it was going to close until I was asked to take over. But I've found that owning one's theatre is wonderful. There's nobody breathing down your neck, and although you've got to balance the books financially, I find it all so interesting."

Henceforward… is Ayckbourn's latest play and has received Press and audience acclaim. It has been described as "bitterly brutal and funny", and is a futuristic impression of London suburbia.

Ayckbourn is the antithesis of the material he writes. He retains the anarchic perception of that early-60s batch of writers that produced such craftsmen as John Osborne and
Harold Pinter.

"I retained a lot of admiration for Osborne. Everything after that had to be slightly anarchic." he remembers.

Ayckbourn has had to display great stamina to stay at the top over the last 30 years, but feels he is writing better than ever.

"I think I've changed my image as I've grown older. My early plays were very manic, very plot orientated. There was always the desperate feeling of keeping it going, so I tended to write towards farce, which was a silly medium to start with, and probably the most difficult of theatre writing there is."

Now he writes plays as ideas arrive, and averages about one every year. He speaks of a "great emptiness" after finishing a play, but, usually within a month the germ of a new idea has settled inside his head. Ayckbourn's technique is remarkable. For weeks the plot gestates in his head. He never uses a notebook or tape recorder, and when it comes to writing he imposes a unique form of self-motivation.

He explained: "When I've decided on the title, I tell my theatre company that we will be starting rehearsals on a certain date, and then I set about writing the play. It's a system that has always worked for me."

Born in Hampstead, in 1939, Ayckbourn spent his childhood in the middle of the Home Counties as the stepson of a bank manager. His mother, for a good part of his childhood, was the breadwinner. She wrote short stories for a woman's magazine.

Trips to Fleet Street with his mother left young Alan with the ambition to be a journalist, but eventually he settled for

"I started to write and then
direct and eventually the two careers came together - accidentally as most things do."

With 35 plays to his credit, Ayckbourn feels his career was launched at exactly the right time:

"After that it was stamina," he says. "I've flitted in an out of fashion. My greatest satisfaction comes from being able to make people laugh. If a play of mine works, and everything seems to come together, I get a wonderful feeling of being the host at a perfect party."

Copyright: Cambridge Evening News. 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.