Interview: Stagebill (1994)

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

First Person Singular: Alan Ayckbourn

by Tim Sheridan

"Almost exclusively among British playwrights, I write only for the stage. Theatre has been my fascination. Over the years I've explored the potential of the stage tools available to me, and time and space are both extremely important. Time, obviously, as a result of the time span of the play: where you start and finish. If you start an hour or two early you bore the audience with yards of exposition. You start too late and nobody knows what the hell is going on. [laughs] Somewhere in between you get it about right. Those were the first lessons I learned about playwriting. From there I became interested in the use of time as a tool within the time span of the play. For instance, I rediscovered what others have found before me, that when stage time equals real time, the effect is to bring in a close-up lens, because people are working very, very slowly. The details of the stage are exposed minute for minute. Whereas the reverse happens when a play is set over 30 years in two hours.
Space has been influenced by working in the round. There one looks down on the stage floor instead of the back wall. You get people moving within their own spaces. So I thought that those spaces could be used as double spaces - two spaces at once."

"As soon as anybody stands up and says "I've thought of something new," someone else stands up and says, "No, Webster did that 400 years ago." I was rather proudly crediting myself at one stage of my career on writing this peculiar blend of the dramatic and the comic running together. It was only when I directed a Jacobean play for the National Theatre that I realised that this was what they had been doing back then. We'd lost it. What fuels my approach at the moment is an attempt not to write a genre play, but to embrace them all."

"I spent my childhood, my misspent youth, in cinemas. This was at a time when every tiny town in England had at least three movie houses and they changed their double bills twice a week. My brother and I used to go for the whole day. I was steeped in the grammar of movie making but the theatre still attracted me."

"To a certain extent, the way I became influenced by writers is by directing them. Because half my life is not spent writing, but directing. Directing someone like Arthur Miller is very helpful to me as a dramatist because you must dissect the play, find out the author's intentions. You can't help noticing how the watch has been assembled."

"So many people, for a long time, thought technique was a very dirty word. But if you find out the basics of how to tell a good story or how to hold an audience by just developing character, then these things only help when your dazzling message to mankind is presented. Otherwise, you can leave in the interval. So we have to keep them there. There are a hundred reasons these days for people not to stay in their seats for two hours. It's toughest with the theatre. I was talking with my actors the other day and I said, if you sit in any seat in this auditorium, it creaks, because it's an old theatre. If you multiply those creaks by 300, you can get quite a noise. But when you get silence, you realise that all those people have decided to freeze. They've made a conscious decision. If you can do that to all those strangers, then obviously the material is working."