Interview: Expression (1990)

My North East

by Alan Ayckbourn

A Londoner by birth, I came to Scarborough as an aspiring actor and assistant stage manager when I was 18, and have never wanted to leave. At first, it was the work which drew me. Stephen Joseph, who founded the Theatre-in-the-Round (common nowadays but virtually unheard of then), was running a very unconventional operation by the standards of 1956-7. Scarborough was very exciting, with Stephen encouraging young actors and writers to tackle new work. In my case, he concentrated on getting me to write and direct.

People I knew in London theatres complained about seldom seeing a tree and here I was walking to work along the beach. I was happy, too, to watch my two sons grow up beside the sea.

When Stephen Joseph died in 1967, I effectively took on his mantle, committed to a theatrical alternative to London. Being in charge, I also found myself in a lucky position: I've never had a play turned down because, apart from one or two for Stephen, I've never submitted one to anyone except myself.

And the Scarborough audiences: they like value for money up here. They sit there almost saying out loud: 'I've paid good money for this; now make me laugh'. Northern people have an honesty, bluntness, even rudeness - call it what you like, but I find it very good. They don't say what they don't feel. If they seem to be enjoying the evening, they really are.

Scarborough is a typical seaside town, with an influx of summer visitors, many of whom wouldn't normally go into a theatre but who think: 'Hell, we're on holiday. Let's go mad'. We even had a very nice review in the New York Times this summer
[1], and we've started getting parties from the other side of the world.

I draw a lot of my material from here. As an aid to concentration, I love walking on the moors. There's some magnificent countryside, miles and miles of it, glorious, open and unspoilt. Walking around and finding bits of moorland that I never knew existed gives me great pleasure.

Website Notes:
[1] This was for the summer 1989 production of
The Revengers' Comedies at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough.

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. 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.