Interview: The Press (11 July 2003)

This interview was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 11 July 2003.

Saving Santa Costs Dearly

by Charles Hutchinson

The country mouse from Norfolk meets Father Christmas on the streets of London in
Sugar Daddies, Alan Ayckbourn's 64th play. [1] The centrepiece of the Stephen Joseph Theatre summer season, this cautionary comedy of dark intentions opens in Scarborough next Thursday, directed by Ayckbourn himself.

Sasha, the aforementioned country mouse, comes to the rescue of Father Christmas, or rather the man in the red and white costume who has been knocked down by a car just as he came out of a children's hospital.
Could this be the start of a beautiful friendship for the good Samaritan or will she receive more than she bargained for this Christmas as her reward?

As the gifts and luxuries stack up, is everything as it appears or do dangerous times lie in wait for her?

"It's a cautionary tale with undertones of
Dr Faustus: do you sell your soul and how far do you sell it?" says Alan. "Sasha is this girl from the country who has gone up to London for the first time to stay with her half sister, who , she's hardly met, having lived in with her parents in Norfolk in this idyllic place with the family tea shop. In rescuing Father Christmas, we have this unlikely relationship between Sasha and this man who's playing Father Christmas but isn't quite what he seems - as happens in many of my plays."

Down the phone, you can hear Alan licking his lips at the prospect of the drama in store, although in reality he is working his way through a piece of fruit in a quick lunch-time break from rehearsals.

"This is one of my character plays," he says. "I was fascinated by how long you could go with a relationship just to keep someone happy. Here you have two people in a fantasy relationship, and I'm looking at whether it will last, or destroy them and her in particular. Women are often attracted to powerful, unscrupulous, dangerous men, where you think 'My god, why are they doing that?', but these men have this aura about them, and so the women keep putting their hand in the fire."

A second sugar daddy, a one-eyed stranger, will enter Sasha's life as darkness descends upon Ayckbourn's comic landscape.

"It's written in eight scenes that chart Sacha's slow decline to the moment where her sister says 'What is happening to you?'," says Alan.

After eight, what will become of Sasha? You must wait to learn more but it is pleasing to see Alison Pargeter returning to Scarborough to play the lead role, after Ayckbourn let her off the leash with award-winning results in the
Damsels In Distress trilogy in Summer 2001. (Last year, upon the trilogy's transfer to the West End, Alison won the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer in the Critics' Circle Drama Section Awards.)

"She's just an extraordinarily watchable girl," says Alan. "Alison has a very good head on her; she's very good at the decisions she makes; and she has a terrific honesty that's a prerequisite for good acting. She can't do 'dishonest': there's not a dishonest bone in her body. She's funny and she's sexy and she has this great sense of fun. Women and comedy can be difficult, so the good ones are gold dust, and she is good. That's why it's nice to give her another role here."

Website Notes:
[1] Confusingly, Sugar Daddies is actually regarded as Alan Ayckbourn's 63rd full-length play with Orvin, his 64th. Despite Orvin being written before Sugar Daddies, the latter was premiered before Orvin at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, hence it being regarded as the 63rd rather than 64th play.

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.