Interview: The Press (22 August 2013)

This interview was published in The Press on 22 August 2013.

Farcicals
by Charles Hutchinson

Alan Ayckbourn was “so tearful” after he finished writing
Arrivals & Departures that he promptly decided to cheer himself up with a pair of lunchtime farces.

Hot on the heels of the
Stephen Joseph Theatre’s on-going world premiere of his 77th play comes Ayckbourn’s Farcicals: the interconnected 45-minute plays The Kidderminster Affair and Chloë With Love, which will open in Scarborough on Friday, August 30.

The short plays can be seen either individually at lunchtimes, in a welcome return of theatre to the SJT restaurant after a misguided hiatus,
[1] or as a double bill in the McCarthy auditorium, predominantly in the evening.

Written and directed by Ayckbourn in his third production of the SJT summer - his revival of his 1992 northern comedy
Time Of My Life completes the trio - Farcicals will be performed by summer repertory company members Elizabeth Boag, Terence Booth, Sarah Stanley and Kim Wall.

Introducing his one-act comedies, Alan says: “There will always be someone who says: ‘Is there any serious content?’ to which the answer is ‘absolutely not’. I wrote these characters who are just joyously silly, and I love them! They’re timeless farce characters, untouched by time and mostly unaware of what’s happening in the wider world. One man is fairly stupid, another is completely stupid, although he thinks he’s the brighter one, like in a Laurel and Hardy comic situation. There’s one woman who’s brighter than most of them - but still not that bright - and another who’s completely daffy. You put them all together, you get the brains of one person.”

The Kidderminster Affair is a frivolous comedy of fun, infidelity and food fights that revolves around sexual intrigue at Teddy’s garden barbecue and, yes, an affair in Kidderminster.

The same four characters - Teddy and his wife Lottie and their next-door neighbours, best friend Reggie and his wife Penny - return in
Chloë With Love, an inconsequential comedy of love, lust and loss of trousers wherein Teddy’s marriage to Lottie is going through a difficult period. The arrival of a fifth character, the voluptuous, exotic stranger Chloë, only complicates marital matters.

“I just had fun with these plays,” says Alan. “Really they’re miniatures that are in the tradition of the one-act plays that Chekhov and the Victorians used to write. They rise or fall on whether they’re funny. The big test is that there’s no such thing as a moderately interesting farce. You don’t say, ‘Oh, that was moderately interesting’; you say ‘that was funny’ or not.”

Once you write a farce, says Alan, “you’re standing there with no trousers on. That’s why I wrote these plays for lunchtime, when no one who comes for lunch wants to go out under a dark cloud, but if they go off to the beach with a smile on their face, then the plays have done their job,” he says. “They’re like end-of-term pranks.”
Ayckbourn last wrote a series of short plays in 1974 under the collective title of
Confusions. “They were five loosely linked plays, and I had it in mind that I was going to write five more short plays to match them, this time called Complications, but in the end Farcicals stuck its head over the parapet,” he says. “I may do short plays for a while as long plays are harder, but I also believe that you need to be older to write farces. You need to need to have the necessary technique. I started out with broad comedy but I don’t think I ever wrote farce, although certainly there were farcical elements in How The Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests, but they were only elements rather than the dominant characteristic.”

It was not until 1979 that Ayckbourn wrote an outright farce,
Taking Steps.

“I would say it’s still my only real farce with a slow wind-up, then the complications and a slow unravelling,” says Alan. “But these new plays are short farces without that structure: they just start and finish.”

Reflecting further on farce suiting the older writer, he explains his reasoning. “They need to be constructed really carefully because you have to lead the audience gently by the hand, so it’s all a bit of a conjuring trick,” he says.
“As a young writer, you don’t know how to do that. You stare at the holes, but rather than trying to repair them you hope the cast will cope with it, but as an older writer you can deal with any complications more knowingly.”

Website Notes:
[1] The then Artistic Director, Chris Monks, made the controversial decision to end lunchtime shows in the restaurant of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, ending more than 35 years of the tradition at the SJT begun by Alan Ayckbourn in 1977. Instead the mid-day plays were produced in The McCarthy theatre as full productions - arguably defeating the purpose of lunchtime shows where a patron could eat lunch whilst eating a play in an informal atmosphere.

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