Interview: Daily Telegraph (15 April 1989)

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

Alan Ayckbourn At 50

by Charles Spencer

"Like all young dramatists I wanted to break moulds but I was economically under tremendous pressure, I had a wife and children very early on and I suddenly discovered that play-writing supplemented your acting income like mad. Play-writing started as a child benefit really. I wrote a play one summer and got £47.50 royalties for it which was something like six weeks wages. It seemed like fairy money for old rope, and I think my natural voice by some good fortune was a comic one and I found it no effort to say 'let's be funny'. "

"People used to say 'Do you ever want to write a serious play?' and I used to get quite hurt. If I've done nothing else I hope I've managed to create an atmosphere where we can expect to laugh and cry in the same evening. I think there was a terrible division - 'are you a funny writer or are you a serious writer?'." He is understandably fond of the remark of a Scarborough theatre-goer who told him "If I'd known what I was laughing at I'd never have started laughing at all."

"Chekhov's my man. He does turns on a sixpence. He can make you laugh and then wind you with virtually the same line. When one achieves that oneself it is the most pleasing feeling and there have been one or two moments of late when one can say one has managed to do it."

"One of my deepest concerns is that there seems to be no space for what I would call a spiritual consensus. I'm dreaming of a play, it's a gleam in my eye and I shouldn't really tell you in case someone pinches it, in which the government has to invent a religion to draw people together. There's no rallying call in terms of what we all believe in and I think years ago there was. What I notice is a sort of disregard for the person. There's an ugliness up there and it reflects downwards."

"I'm on a crusade to try and persuade people that theatre can be fun, but every time I start doing that, some hairy bugger from the Left comes in and tells them its instructive and drives them all out again."

"I hate the dilution of theatre into purely message giving stuff, telling people that war is wrong, it's so much richer than that. The old Greek business of purging the emotions is so true. These dramatists are only giving people one course really, Ryvita, when you should be giving them this enormous banquet of pain and pleasure and joy."

"They [the plays] don't get any easier. Every play, potentially, has got to be better than the others or there's no point in writing it. If I ever thought I'd written my best play I'd stop. There's no real necessity to keep writing except one's striving for the unattainable perfect play. And there is something joyous about thinking up a new game, and tiptoeing down to the rehearsal room with it and getting a lot of like-minded chaps together and working it out with a certain amount of glee and saying 'this will get 'em, this will make 'em laugh', and then tiptoeing into the theatre in due course, and sharing it, like you did with your parents when you were a kid, and they all come in and look. And particularly in a little space like this, if it works, there's a terrific feeling going round. It's the child's magic of theatre which is still there, and despite all the messages and the saying things, that is the over-riding joy."