Interview: Time Out (18 November 2009)

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

Q & A: Sir Alan Ayckbourn

by David Cote

"It [his writing] was shaped by the Stephen Joseph. That was the theatre that offered to do my plays. As an actor or stage manager, in the very early days, I'd done one or two jobs, a couple of repertory theatres, which were conventional proscenium arches, but the in the round was Stephen Joseph's dream, which he'd imported from over here [North America], as an exchange student in Iowa. He became obsessed by it. Because of two things, really: (a) it broke all the boundaries, and (b) it was economic. It cost less for productions because the scenery cost plummeted, and all the money such as it was went on for the important bits like actors. And it was no coincidence that the National Theatre, when it was built, had the Cottlesloe and the Olivier and the Lyttleton: two out of three with open stages."

"He [Stephen Joseph] said,'I want to open a theatre in Scarborough and let people bring in their fish-and-chips and sit there.' And I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not acting with a load of people with newspaper and fish.' And he said, 'If you're acting is good enough, they won't even eat the fish.' But it never happened, because the whole company refused to go on with a fish-and-chip theatre. He pushed the envelope too far.

"I'm 73 on, but I still want to try and push myself into new areas.
My Wonderful Day is actually a direct descendant of one we did here [New York] called Private Fears in Public Places, which is when I started to explore the space between words. What you learn is that you've been overwriting for most of your life. If you are determined to write for actors, leave them something to do! I don't think it's a coincidence that Harold Pinter started to write shorter plays later in his life. And Beckett. So this is pretty sparse, this script. There's an awful lot of visual in it. We had an audio-described performance just before we left Scarborough: somebody sitting in the box with a microphone, for people who were blind or partially blind, so they had a blow-by-blow description. And that person worked a damn sight harder than anybody else on the stage. Because they were going: "Now she's picking up this, now she's doing that, now he's doing this, now she's sitting there, now she's writing..." By the end of it: "God! I'm exhausted..."

"I was a single-parent child. My mother brought me up for quite a lot of the important years of my life: four through eight, after my dad left to spread more of his wild oats. It was quite interesting, because my mother was a professional woman. She earned our bread by her pen: She was a short-story writer for women's magazines. I got very used to her cooking the breakfast, and then she would swish everything off the table and throw it in the sink, and she'd bring out this vast, Underwood portable typewriter and bang it down on the table. And then she'd thunder away at it for the next two or three hours until lunchtime. I have a very early memory of sitting under the table with this kid's typewriter, just covered in blue ink, tapping away at it. Typing out my own stories. If my mother had been a plumber, I would have been a pretty good plumber. But fortunately, she was a writer."

"I'm only very happy when I'm working. I've also been fortunate in having Stephen's encouragement to start with, and then with his very premature death in his forties, the offer of taking it over as
Artistic Director, which gave me a sort of wonderful work space of my own work. And I commissioned myself year after year, and that's the reason for the prolificness. When the opportunity is there, a writer will take it. I've always had an end in sight when I've written a play."

"I'm a Keaton man rather than a Chaplin man."

"I was known as the whiz-kid technician in my early stuff. You know,
Relatively Speaking, How the Other Half Loves, right through House & Garden. But I've slowly, I hope, woven the two together. I look back on The Norman Conquests, which was a huge tour de force of technical writing, and think, How the hell did I do that? I finished two of the plays in one night. Amphetamines, probably. Just the desperation of trying to finish it. My God: We open in a few weeks!"