Interview: Scarborough Evening News (1988)

This interview was published in the Scarborough Evening News on 23 November 1988.

Alan Plugs Into The Hi-Tech Kids

by Jeannie Swales

Alan Ayckbourn's latest play draws on a theme impenetrable to most adults - the world of computer games. Fortunately, then, Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays, the children's Christmas treat at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, is aimed squarely at five-10-year-olds, an age group which, he feels, is entirely at home with advanced technology.

"Every five-year-old these days seems to be able to write a computer programme, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to them. In fact, I'm just hoping that it won't be beneath them," he laughs.

He was partly inspired by his own interest in computer games, which he finds a relaxing pastime in the rare moments when he's not working on some project or other.

"I don't get very far with them, though," he admits, ruefully. "I've got some which I've had on disc for five years or more, and I'm still stuck in the maze - I go back occasionally, and move on another inch."

Maze Plays resemble such a game in that they allow the audience to decide the next move in the search for a goal - and, once that goal is achieved, they have to steer the hero and heroine safely back to base.
It's an extension of the multiple plot technique which he pioneered with 1979's
Sisterly Feelings - in which the action was decided on the toss of a coin - and the mammoth two-hander Intimate Exchanges, premiered at the Stephen Joseph in 1982. [1]

The new play opens with the plight of Neville - a dog who has lost his voice. It has, in fact, been stolen by the sinister Mr Accousticus, a man who loves silence so much that he steals and conceals noises. A dog without a bark is in a sorry state, so Neville and his mistress Suzy sat out on a journey of adventure in Mr Accousticus's haunted mansion to recover the missing noise. The rooms they enter decide what happens next, and their route is determined by an audience vote.

"The cast are excited and appalled by it," says Ayckbourn. "It is a bit of a nightmare for them."

Maze Plays are not his first attempt at entertaining a younger audience. His first, Dad's Tale, was presented at Scarborough's Library Theatre an "alarming" 30 years ago, while his seasonal fantasy, Christmas v Mastermind was seen at Stoke. More successful than either of these was Ernie's Incredible Illucinations - recently televised - which was originally written as his contribution to a book of children's plays.

For the
Maze Plays, Ayckbourn took an imaginative step back into childhood and thought: "Would I have found that funny at that age?" He hopes that he has not underestimated any of his audience's intelligence.

"I don't see why children's entertainment should be unnecessarily bland, and loud, and vigorous. I remember in my own childhood crying through
Bambi - and then being scared by the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Of course. I'm not saying that I want to scare the hell out of children - but young people's theatre should be more than people falling on banana skins."

Website Notes:
Intimate Exchanges is a play which has 16 possible variations; at the end of each scene a choice is made which determines the direction of the play. However, unlike Sisterly Feelings and Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays where there is an element of chance in the performance, the choices in Intimate Exchanges are decided prior to performance.

Copyright: Scarborough 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.