Interview: Awaking Beauty (2009)

This interview, conducted in 2009, is held in the Ayckbourn Archive. No details are known about its publication.

Question: Did you find it hard writing an adult fairytale for an adult audience?
Alan Ayckbourn:
It’s no more difficult than writing one for children. In a way easier, in that children as an audience are more willing to suspend disbelief. Their so-called adult “rationality” hasn’t yet kicked in, along with the disappearance of Father Christmas. I have written other fairytale based shows of which Dreams From A Summer House (another musical, this one with composer John Pattison) is probably the closest to Awaking Beauty.

Did you read fairytales as a child?
Yes, I read my share of them like many of my generation.

And if so which was your favourite and why?
I liked The Tinder Box I seem to recall and Bluebeard scared me and fascinated me in equal parts. I preferred the darker ones, i.e. those by the Brothers Grimm rather than the somewhat blander Hans Christian Anderson.

Do you find fairytales still relevant today?
Yes. Essentially they are, after all, morality tales concerned with Good and Evil and were intended presumably to instil children with an awareness that we all have, as individuals, a choice between the two. Some of them are quite sophisticated but the simplest of them with their crude black and white imagery probably seem quaint (if not downright politically incorrect!) to a generation whose sensibilities have been broadened (some would argue blunted!) by 20th century sophistication, psychology and social tolerance.

Is the intimacy of ‘Theatre in the round’ staging useful for engaging a young audience?
I think it’s extremely useful! Proximity to dramatic events tends to involve an audience, especially a young one used to seeing acting close-up either from movies or TV. Finding themselves seated often several yards away from the action in a proscenium arch theatre where the actors aren’t, technically speaking, even in the same room as them, tends to make the theatre experience less satisfactory.

Do you find there can be a fine balance between a play and a pantomime?
The genre of “pantomime” these days, is such a vast area stretching from large-scale commercial pantomimes - designed largely for a once-a-year, generally non-theatre going audience - which are little more than glorified excuses to introduce familiar household names going through their paces with barely an acknowledgement to the original source material, let alone an excuse for a narrative. At the other extreme, the simple dramatic retelling of an established fairytale is much the same as any other original story, be it by Dickens or Austen. The fairytale’s enduring secret is that the best of them have good strong stories and in this sort of theatre (no, in any sort of theatre, I believe) narrative is vital.

Do you find it hard to get the right balance?
Not really. But then I’ve never tried to write a straight pantomime! The nearest I’ve got to one is in plays like Awaking Beauty which actually starts where Sleeping Beauty leaves off. But then I’ve always been curious even as a child to know what really happened after “they all lived happily ever after” bit. Which probably, come to think of it, has provided the basis of a large proportion of my writing.

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