Interview: Daily Express (1989)

This interview was published in the Daily Express on 16 October 1989.

You're Never Alone With A Psychopathic Sloane

by Maureen Paton

The spectre of a beautiful psychopathic Sloane called Karen has been haunting the mind of our most successful playwright since Shakespeare. To audiences, Alan Ayckbourn's characters have a universal appeal as the rats in the race of modern life, caught in comical traps. But he has now moved one step further into the realms of good and evil to create a wicked lady, played by prodigiously talented Christine Kavanagh.

Karen, the heartless anti-heroine of his latest two-part play
The Revengers' Comedies, has insisted on coming home with the author at night. Since she has set fire to her parents and murdered three other people, this is the kind of house-guest one could well do without.

Says Ayckbourn: "I wanted to write a play about a man who picks up a stray kitten and finds it's a boa constrictor instead."

All should be sweetness and light for millionaire Ayckbourn. He is celebrating his 50th birthday, his 37th play and the Royal premiere this Thursday of his first film,
A Chorus Of Disapproval, in the presence of the Duchess of York at the Curzon in London's Shaftesbury Avenue.

Directed by Michael Winner and starring a host of famous names - Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins, Prunella Scales, Richard Briers and Jenny Seagrove - this very English comedy adapted from Ayckbourn's stage play tells the story of sexual mishaps in an amateur operatic company. It was filmed on location in Ayckbourn's home town or Scarborough.

The author is an amiable, droll, but highly nervous chap who accompanies his conversation with Semaphore signals and shouts to himself at unexpected intervals.

"I think my plays are taking on wider social connotations now. I'm getting a bit cheesed off with marriage really - there are only so many ways a woman can hit her husband."

Ayckbourn flies kites like a schoolboy on the beach near his harbour house and has long since put his great fame into perspective. Scarborough is where he has run the
Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round for the last 17 years as a showcase for his own and other people's new plays.

His nimble wit has made him a world-wide phenomenon translated into 24 languages. He may not be quite so lyrical as Shakespeare but he's certainly far more funny.
He was born in Hampstead, the son of the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, but he has the common touch to perfection.

"As a man, I spend a lot of time with women - not necessarily in bed with them but sort of chatting," says Ayckbourn, who divorced early and has lived with his highly efficient personal organiser Heather Stoney for the last 16 years. Though his plays are full of power games between husband and wife, he remains resolutely unmarried himself.

"The very freedom that being unmarried gives you keeps you together. I suppose my brand of comedy is a comedy of disillusion. I get a bit depressed occasionally. Anyone who's lived more than 30 years tends to do so because you see the same things going round again."

He would certainly choose God over Mammon since Ayckbourn lives very modestly. "I do have a BMW but it needs recharging every three weeks because I hardly drive it. I walk to work."

Ayckbourn sits around sucking pencils and watching TV for several weeks while the plots develop inside his head until the final apocalyptic brainstorm only days before rehearsals are scheduled to begin. Karen might be a new direction, but the fundamentals won't change.

"I won't stop trying to make people laugh. It has been proved that it's possible to be serious and make people laugh. My alter ego Karen is completely off her trolley. In theatre, there's humour between the cracks of the horror. I'm fascinated by treading that razor blade."

Copyright: Daily Express. 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.