Interview: The Press (6 December 2007)

This interview was published in The Press on 6 December 2007.

Just A Quickie With Playwright Alan Ayckbourn, As He revives A Trip To Scarborough
by Charles Hutchinson

A Trip To Scarborough is the only play in a book shelf of more than 70 plays by Alan Ayckbourn that is set in his adopted home town.
First adapted by Ayckbourn from Sheridan's genteel 1777 romp of the same title in 1982, when he added a 1942 storyline about Scarborough at war and a third story set in the present, his magic carpet ride through time is now played out amid the scurry and flurry of 21st century holidaymakers and conference delegates at the haunted Royal Hotel in Scarborough.
Here lurk ghosts from earlier times, from the mid 20th and 18th centuries, as Tom Fashion, Sheridan's penniless buck, rubs shoulders with present-day philandering husbands and anxious young wives from the 1940s, who await news of missing fighter-pilot husbands.
Add in a live band in fancy dress, a murderous major, a hapless heroine, a crusty father, an unexpected guest appearance by the Andrews Sisters and a swindling scam involving the original Sheridan manuscript, all overseen by long-suffering hotel staff, and Ayckbourn makes time fly back and forth on Yorkshire's East Coast.
Ahead of last night's opening performance, he found time to answer Charles Hutchinson's handful of questions.

What is the history of R B Sheridan's play, and when did you first discover it?
I gather it's a version of Vanbrugh's The Relapse, which Sheridan cleaned up and made palatable for his more fastidious audience. But I have since learnt that Vanbrugh, in turn, borrowed the idea from Colly Cibber, the actor, who had first written his own original version. God knows where he got it from. Anyway, I feel I'm following a fine tradition.

What are the particular characteristics of R B Sheridan's storytelling that you most enjoy?
There's a breadth of characterisation, a relish, a sort of rumbus-tiousness (if there's such a word) to his characters. A full-blooded enjoyment of life. Which is refreshing in today's theatrical climate where onstage mouths are often more downturned (and in the audience, too, for that matter). Life in many aspects was probably HELL on earth back then, but at least they knew how to enjoy themselves in the theatre.

How have you changed your play from the 1982 version, beyond iPods and mobile phones?
Yes, I upgraded the so called 'modern' strand with technology. But men and women, socially, have moved on, and my 1982 businessmen with their public ogling of and leching after any passing woman would be given short shrift today by the modern girl! She'd probably deck them.

How do you distinguish between "bending" and "twisting" time in your time plays, such as this one?
I don't think of it as either. I use time occasionally to further or sometimes to drive the action. Along with the setting or lack of it (place), time is one of the most powerful tools a playwright has at their disposal. I suppose in this case time doesn't either twist or bend, rather it time hops.

On a more general note, how has, a trip to Scarborough changed for seaside visitors from the day you first set foot in Yorkshire's principal resort? "I think Scarborough itself has had to adjust to the visitor - and is still adjusting quite dramatically of late, thanks largely to things like the urban renaissance scheme. Sun and sand come slightly lower down the list than they used to (as people's expectations have been raised.)
They certainly these days demand far more from a holiday since way back in those forgotten days when they were shipped in trains in their best bibs and tuckers during the Staffordshire Potteries' 'Wakes Weeks'. Even when I came in the mid-Fifties, the traditional British seaside holiday was still in its late heyday. Then came the slump but I think it's on the way back, but in a very different form. How much can Scarborough offer a visitor in a week? How many varied activities and entertainments? About 20 years ago, we had a spate of madness when we systematically started knocking down every attractive building and hotel the town had. And replacing them with some real horrors on the way. But, of late, I think a saner, more sensible approach prevails, where we're beginning to realise and restore the good things that we realise we have."

How would you assess the health of the Scarborough arts scene?
Speaking personally, there's a terrifically active arts scene here, which is growing, yearly. A sense that the young especially are growing hungry to be involved creatively, maybe in response to the appallingly materialistic, non-spiritualistic vacuum which we had in the '80s and '90s. I'm optimistic certainly, that it's not all bad news. Well, maybe at the top it is, but there's a grass roots revival going on. I like to think in Scarborough, in theatre terms, this has been spearheaded by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, which has provided some sort of rallying point. And the music scene here alone is buzzing, if you know where to look! Mind you, the place is still filled with the same sad old wallies who write letters to the local paper protesting at local 'arty-farty types'. God help us! So we've some way to go."

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