Interview: Theater Week (25 February 1991)

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

Alan Ayckbourn Takes Manhattan

by Gerard Raymond

"It's ridiculous, we really are chalk and cheese. I mean, if you think you are watching Neil Simon when you are watching my plays, then you are in for a hell of a disappointment, because they have none of those wonderful Doc Simon gag sequences and those marvellous lines."

"I have quite a soft spot for
Absent Friends. It's very low key and it's the first play I wrote, I think, which didn't have some huge plot motor whirring away."

"You put the comedies in between to double the audience and then did the serious plays [when he first started acting]. Every time we did a comedy the directors would say things like 'brighten and fast up,' the lighting would be brighter, and the acting very loud and quick. I thought, even then, that one day I'd love to write slow, quiet comedy that had all the rules of tragedy attached to it."

"I don't think it [
Absent Friends] is for big theatres. I wanted to see how small we could go, down to the minutiae. It is just a tea-party observed, and all the undercurrents are running. One of the joys of it at Scarborough was that the audience was leaning forward, some even on the table, very much a part of that tea-party."

"They [farces] are too damned difficult. They take a good idea and they also take a lot of work and obviously one has to feel in the mood for farce. If I write one in ten that's a farce, I should be doing pretty well."

"If you explained the device [of
Taking Steps] to somebody in the foyer they probably would turn around and sell their ticket back. So it was rather joyous to see my fears confounded and the audience quite happy to play along with me. As long as you set the rules up and attempt to follow them, it is amazing where an audience will follow you. So you usually put more balls in the air: Eventually, in Taking Steps, you get three sets of people on three different floors and plaster apparently falls down from one floor to the other. It is very encouraging, the mental chess that people, as a collective body, are able to play. I vowed after Taking Steps never to underestimate an audience again."

"I always try to push something under the noses of the technical people just to keep it interesting. I am a very strong believer in the visual element of theatre."

"When I started writing, at about 25, I was angry, partly because I felt very bad about not being able to carry on with my marriage. For anybody who marries under 20, it is a miracle if it survives till they are 30. It's because you haven't really grown or formulated your own personality. Adults seem to encourage you into marriage but they never tell you just what it means to promise yourself to someone for the next 85 years. It is a hell of a promise. I was a solemn young man and I took it rather seriously, so I was rather ashamed of myself for having to break it."

"I just think we do such terrible things to each other in the name of love... Of course it has to be said that bad relationships make good theatre. I always say that audiences like my plays because they have a gentle feeling of superiority - they say 'well, we have got problems but nothing like those.'"

"In some psychological way, when we are outside marriage, we work a bit harder to keep a relationship together."

"I am not quite sure, but I suppose I come down so often on the side of the women because I was brought up in a single-parent family for a long time. I tended to see my mother's point of view more than that of my absent father and she had fairly strong opinions about the male sex. A little of that probably rubbed off. I guess there is the balance of male and female in all of us, I tend to swing that way when I write."

"I think it is possible I am a more serious person than I was. A lot of people at my age start writing lighter plays. It's like they have shot their bow when they were angry teenagers and they are now mild old men. I am going sort of sour."

"Children, more so than adults, have an unforgivingly low boredom threshold."

"I have been forced to wear sheep's clothing quite often while chewing at people. I think laughter is the only sure way to the sort of wide audience that I want to approach. A lot of it is convincing them down a path that they would not otherwise go. I have no interest in talking purely to the converted, that's great, they all agree with me. I want the buggers who don't agree with me!"