Interview: The Press (18 May 1990)

This interview was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 18 May 1990.

Weighty Issues

by Charles Hutchinson

Alan Ayckbourn's new play tackles a weighty issue. The human body and how it shapes people's attitudes.

It may be coincidental, but noteworthy no less, that the playwright's own physical form has changed dramatically in the past 18 months: ten inches have been shed from his waistline.

Ayckbourn, however, says that
Body Language was influenced by other factors.

"What really fascinated me was all those pieces in magazines and papers, on TV and radio, obsessed with our shape and the way we look. People are interested in how they look, or how they perceive they look."

The play, in preview this week, opens at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, next Monday. Ayckbourn is giving little away about the exact content.

The summer season brochure gives a clue.
Body Language looks at two very different women, curvaceous photographic model Angie Dell and overweight radio journalist Jo Knapton. One is in peak physical condition, the other an unkempt mess, both claim to be happy with their appearance. It takes an event with unexpected results to answer that question.

No clues can be gleaned about that "event". But "both women are forced to stand back and look at themselves quite objectively and subjectively in the other's shoes", the brochure teases.

"It struck me as interesting to have a story where people are brought up short by how they change," Ayckbourn adds, cards still close to his chest.

As a cursory inspection of magazine racks would confirm, most get-slim, get-happy articles are addressed at women, not men. Perhaps not surprisingly Ayckbourn's central characters are female.

"It was right to have women at the centre as men tend to judge women more on their weight. But the play is not only about the women of course; it also concerns five men's reactions to them."

Every third or fourth play, Ayckbourn throws the spotlight on women. "Female friendship is the most difficult area for a male writer. They have a closeness that you don't have between a man and a woman," he says. "I am rather fascinated by their perception of themselves as victims and machinators."

If magazine pressure did not persuade Ayckbourn to change his shape, what did?

"It was after Christmas, a couple of years ago. My sons were up for the holiday and we were out walking; they were walking faster than me. And I was approaching the dreaded 50!" he recalled.

What language does
Body Language speak? "As with all my messages, moderation in all things. But for God's sake, enjoy it. Have the odd glass of wine, the odd Mars bar, the odd sandwich."

Copyright: Charles Hutchinson. 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.