Interview: Country House & Interiors (December 1988)

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

Between The Acts

by Caroline Suter

"Henceforward... asks two questions. Is what the creative artist does relevant to what goes on, or is it a sideshow; and, as technology continues to grow, will the creative artist's role still be there? I don't really answer them except to say that there are times when one feels, as a so-called creative artist, totally irrelevant. In the nuclear shelter, I probably wouldn't get precedence over the plumber. Creative artists often do detach themselves from the real world, and they plunder from it quite freely. People tell you things and then look at you reproachfully as they see it all trotted back. Jerome (the hero of Henceforward...) is a composer who makes sound by all the modern methods that render most musicians redundant. He uses human voices and to do so, he leaves the tape recorders running all day and all night so nobody in any room of the house is safe. As a result his wife and daughter have upped and left. The play is about his attempts to get his family back - if nobody's talking into your tape recorder, you're stuck. It's quite bleak for a play of mine, but it's quite funny. He's inherited an electronic nursemaid with a tendency to murder the children it looks after, so he's got this homicidal tin lady hanging around. He's moulded her into the shape of his wife so he can abuse her in the evenings. The play's full of fables and parables, about how men try to alter women. I'm a great science fiction fan, and it's got bits of that, a touch of Psycho, and of The Fall of the House of Usher, a very gothick play. It's quite a departure for me, known as I am for people bickering over dinner."

"The early plays, like
Relatively Speaking, are not by anyone I ever knew, but there it is. As you search for new material, you enter areas that are not obvious comic material. I've probably already said all that I can about people living together."

"Plays need constructing, they need narrative and character development and those silly old fashioned things. You can see people wrestling to stay awake after a minute so you keep something moving in front of their eyes - like children. If people want to know what's going on they'll probably stay awake."

"I take about four weeks off and spend two and a half or three of them mooching about, clearing the everyday fuzz, trying to find what's going on underneath. The writing happens very fast. It's tough, because you're holding so many strands at once and pushing them into some kind of shape without dropping any of it. I'm always in all my plays and I'm in most characters. It's the incidents that belong to other people's lives. If I'm writing a woman I write most of her from me and take the externals from someone I know."

"Actors will do their own play on the night, but if you've treated them right they'll do it in the way we agreed they would. I do sometimes show how I'd like things, but I do it so ineptly only a lunatic would try and follow me."

"The idea is that I do two plays a year for three years: new work I hope, and perhaps a Chekhov, Ibsen, Somerset Maugham, good plays I have no ambitions in the cinema or TV, although I watch tv and films like a maniac. The theatre's the only thing for me."