Interview: Yorkshire Post (9 / 19 September 2017)

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

Alan Ayckbourn: "Take the work seriously, but never yourself."

by Chris Bond

“I arrived [in Scarborough] wanting to
act but I was completely untrained. I’d worked in one or two reps carving out a sort of minor career as an actor, so this seemed like a nice opportunity,” he says, leaning back in his armchair. [1]

Stephen Joseph was an exciting man. He was a sort of revolutionary, he introduced new forms of theatre and he had a passion for new work. So the idea that existed then of the dramatist being this remote soul living on the Faroe Islands and positing in a new script was not for him. His idea was the theatre of Shakespeare. The writer was just another member of the team, it didn’t matter who they were. We even had a box office manager who was once writing plays, we were all writing.”

“I’d already written plays that weren’t going anywhere but he [Stephen Joseph] was the first person to offer me the chance to write a play with a semi-guarantee that it would be produced the following year, which was enormously helpful. There’s nothing like knowing your play’s going to go on to bring beads of sweat out on you.”

“Revivals are strange things, one likes to have the plays redone but they have to be done really well. I’m not a
director who happily leaps into doing things several times. I’m much more excited about the new work than the old stuff,” he says. “I’ve got a clear memory of all the plays, though I do keep writing them so there’s more of them to add to the pot,” he says, with a chuckle.

“Yorkshire audiences can be brutally honest. They’ll say if they think something’s not good enough and I like the challenge of them. They sit there, they’ve paid their money and metaphorically they fold their arms and say ‘ok, come on, prove it’. So every show I’ve had to re-prove it which is a good thing. They certainly aren’t sycophantic, though having said that they are loyal and they’ve done the journey with me.”

“I did reckon at one stage after the stroke that this might be it. I’d written enough stuff and I knew I could fall back on the back catalogue so I had a directing career if nothing else. But then a little tiny idea came and that was exciting, and a relief. The ideas keep chasing me, thankfully. I’m singularly fortunate in that I’ve already written the play for next year and I’m just worryingly slightly about 2019, assuming I last that long and my brain doesn’t blow up,” he says.

“I’ve brought my two sons up here [Scarborough] - there are worst places to bring your boys up than by the seaside. I think of myself as an honorary Yorkshireman by now. There’s a sort of magnet that’s drawn me here. I have southern friends who wonder what on earth I’m still doing here and then they arrive and they look at the view and go, ‘oh, I see.’ “It’s a special place and there’s a great deal more going on here than you’d ever know. There’s a huge art scene, there’s potters and painters... It seems like there’s more art galleries than there are artists. When we first came the drama scene was a bit old fashioned and now it’s flourishing.”

Theatrical Giant

by Chris Bond

“It’s [
The Divide] sort of a cross between dystopia and Romeo and Juliet,” he says.

“I met someone in Edinburgh recently who said they’d just seen in Scarborough and had come up to see my new play and couldn’t believe they were by the same writer.”

“I wanted to write it [
The Divide] because I’ve developed a routine and I’m very suspicious of routines. I tend to write and direct the first production and I realised the writer in me was getting narrowed down by the director in me. So I thought I’d just go into freefall as a writer, just close my eyes and jump off a cliff.”

“It touches upon a lot of modern concerns like how much freedom do we allow each other and the constraints we put on people in society.”

“We have so many prejudices and preconceptions. One thought the problem was over. I grew up in a very interesting time as a dramatist. In the first of my plays few of the women worked but now they’ve all got jobs and some of the men stay at home, so the whole thing has changed. But as we see from the BBC’s pay inequalities there’s a still a bias against women, and although the gay movement has made an enormous stride towards being accepted, when you look at places like America under the right-wing administration the grip on these rights looks quite tenuous.”

“It’s an attempt to talk to younger people, because if I want to continue to reflect society then I need to try and create new spaces from where we can discuss the essential things that matter."