Interview: Scarborough Evening News (1989)

This interview was published in the Scarborough Evening News on 31 May 1989.

Ayckbourn At The Double

He must be Britain's most successful arid prolific playwright but Scarborough's own Alan Ayckbourn has confessed, "I don't like writing."

Now in the midst of rehearsals for his 37th production,
The Revengers' Comedies, Ayckbourn says that he only really begins to enjoy himself when the ink has dried on the final page.

"I'm primarily a
director who happens to write, I don't like writing. I like the end product, when it's finished and I can go into rehearsals with a group of hopefully like-minded people and bring it to life with them - that's the joy."

But for a reluctant scribe Ayckbourn has produced a theatrical tale of epic proportions for his 50th-birthday year show.
The Revengers' Comedies is a five-hour play, which for convenience and comfort has been divided into two.

"I wanted to do a big show, an event," he said, "and you need to really challenge yourself now and again, otherwise you tend to churn out the same stuff."

The emotion being dissected in this latest work is, as the title suggests, revenge. It is the story of two strangers who meet on Albert Bridge over the Thames, both contemplating suicide. They are an incongruous pair. Henry is middle-aged, his wife has left him and he has lost his job. Karen is young and beautiful, but jilted and desperate.

"They are both contemplating the idea of jumping, but they get talking and decide that this would be a rather negative thing to do," explains Ayckbourn.

Instead they decide it would be more constructive to take revenge on the people who had driven them to this. And that's as much as anyone outside the rehearsal room has a right to know. Needless to say, when Karen from the county set and urban animal Henry swap lifestyles and set about their chosen tasks, the comic scene is set. But be warned, the moods darken as the tale progresses.

"You cannot actually sustain this length of play on a sit-com level, it just isn't possible. You must bring into play a whole breadth of emotions," said Ayckbourn. "These are two of the most complex people I have ever written because I have been allowed to write them out over such a period of time."

There is a plenitude of characters venturing into the plot throughout the story, which can be viewed on consecutive nights as two plays or, for the stalwarts, in two parts over one evening. As well as the 14 actors, there are 30 set changes, creating a mammoth technical task for his stage management crew. Switching between such diverse settings as a cowshed and an office block is being achieved with the aid of a system of moving truck staging and winches.

"The result will look quite simple, like all good effects, but in fact it is really quite complicated," explained Ayckbourn.

The new feature of launching Scarborough productions with a series of 'preview' nights comes straight from Ayckbourn's West End experiences.

National would have up to 14 previews before they would contemplate having the press in," said Ayckbourn. "Here we open absolutely cold, with one little matinee before we are bang in there with the critics. We have the same critics coming here, this time we have even got the New York Times coming, and it seems very unfair for the actors.

The Revengers' Comedies will therefore enjoy five nights of previews from Monday 5 June before a civic night and finally 'press night,' on Tuesday 13 June. The previews will give the cast and, of course, Ayckbourn the director, a chance to see audience reaction to the show.

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.