Interview: Evening Plus (24 October 1990)

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

Hit Man By The Sea

by Jean Rafferty

"I think if people like me, who can afford to be living out of London, don't do it, then it all congregates into that corner of the country. Playwrights don't have to be where the work's being done. Actors do and I can understand them saying, 'I have to live in London.' Some of them make decisions to live in Scotland or the Midlands or the North of England but they are few and they know that the work is not there. I hope that we can decentralise things a bit. that we can persuade the odd person to come up here to the theatrically unfashionable north east coast and provide alternatives to London. I think once you're away from there you can."

"I said [to
Stephen Joseph], 'Well, I can write a better play than this.' Arrogantly, at 17. [1] So I went off and tried it. I don't think I wrote a better play, but I wrote a play and it was good enough for him to agree to do it. He said. 'You're very young. You want to say a lot of things. Being very young you also want to pull the rug out from your elders and betters. But. however you do it. you'd better do it entertainingly. Otherwise we'll have an empty theatre.' So I've spent my life, I hope, knocking people over by stealth. I've always said to writers. 'If you do a full frontal attack on your audience and call them all swine, don't be surprised if they get up and walk out, because it's their privilege. Not many people will sit there and be insulted.' I think you can actually say quite a lot of valuable things about the way we behave to each other, the way we ought to behave, provided you filter it rather cunningly, sometimes through comedy."

"I think that the young dramatist starting out today would find it very tough going to make a living in theatre. It does concern me quite a lot. Young playwrights should be able to work in theatre but, alas, very often can't."

"[I lived in] an awful fiat. Dreadful flat. We made the eldest one's bed up in the bath. My wife and I both thought, My God. Supposing the tap drips? We had this nightmare of the child floating. Of course he was as dry as a bone. You don't want to say, 'I had it really rough.' but I think only a maniac would try to have his children and be married before the age of twenty. I was lucky that writing wasn't my career. If I'd stepped out from school and said, 'I want to be a playwright,' we'd all have starved. I think, at least initially, playwrights should have other jobs as well. I don't think it would be sensible to hope to live off your pen."

"It's always there, the fear of drying up, but occasionally I wish it would happen. The plays pop up like mushrooms. I am actually at the moment a bit like an alcoholic. I have to resist writing. A case for Writers' Anonymous. I was starting to write more than one a year and it was too much. I think the quality was getting a bit stretched. So now I write an adult's play a year and I also write a children's play a year. This has become my new joy. I hope it's a joy for them. There are a number of children who come and see the adults' plays. Even if they're seven or eight, they're perfectly able to understand what's going on. You get a few longeurs when the adults get particularly talkative, which is just boring. I suppose the children's plays are the adult plays with the boring bits chopped out. They don't spend too long kissing each other. Get on with it. You get no points for trying with children. They are bored within seconds. Adults sit through it. They say, 'It'll probably be all right in a minute.' You watch them sit through some dreadful, turgid scene very politely, but the kids'll just start talking."

"He [his father] was a violinist. Leader of the London Symphony Orchestra. He turned round one day during rehearsal and saw a very attractive second violinist sitting behind him. They went off and retired and bred St Bernards in Norfolk. He sold his Stradivarius and he bought kennels. Bred these damn great dogs. I used to go and see them in the holidays, get the coach up to Norfolk from Sussex and spend a week or so there. But he died when I was still quite young, 11 or 12 I think. That's an area of regret. He and I didn't get on very well. I think that had I been a bit older we'd have got on better. But he was an old father. He was considerably older than my mother. It's the sort of thing one hopes to God you'd never be stupid enough to do, just to sell up and go off - I think on a bit of a whim - with the love of your life, saying, 'All you need is love and a few dogs.'"

"I was very shocked because I had made vows and promises for eternity, in a church. Not that I'm a great Christian, but it did strike me that it was a very solemn promise. And I hadn't made many of those up till then. We had five or six pretty good terms but it was complete madness. It was like I had lived all my life by the time I was 25. I think it was coming from public school, where women were kept very much a mystery. You'd catch a glimpse of one over the railings and go, 'That must be a woman.' The desire was to have one of your own and take it to bits... I sort of proposed to everybody I met for months till eventually somebody said Yes.
[2] I've said to my children, 'Be very very careful. It's not that anyone's going to scream failure at you if you break up a marriage, but you might say it to yourself.' I felt a real sense of failure. I should think more marriages break up than stay together but I just felt that I was going to be different."

"It's important, I think, that there's something stronger than mad undying passion. That might get a bit thin around Thursday."

"The joy of having a theatre here is having the right to fail. If you're working in the West End you've got a quarter of a million pounds of people and materials and other people's money floating on it. It's not quite so easy to take that attitude, not if you want to do another one. Here there is money floating on it and there's also a theatre that could close, but on the other hand I don't have to keep completely down the straight path, which I think I would do in the West End. Working at the National with your company was a sort of dream, but in the end I think perhaps I just preferred it here."

Website Notes:
[1] Alan Ayckbourn was actually 19 when he wrote his first play,
The Square Cat.
[2] Alan did get engaged at least once prior to marrying his first wife, Christine Roland. Apparently he used the same engagement ring for both women.