Interview: The Press (9 September 2016)

These interviews were published on 9 September in The Press.

Alan Ayckbourn goes back to the future for Henceforward… revival 40 years on
by Charles Hutchinson

Alan Ayckbourn’s portentous comedy
Henceforward… returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre next week in his first staging of the once futuristic comedy since its premiere in May 1987.[1]

All alone, high up in an isolated, derelict suburban tower block, avant-garde composer Jerome struggles vainly to complete his life’s masterwork about love. Aided by a deranged android childminder, he hatches a plan to retrieve his source of artistic inspiration, his beloved daughter Geain, from his hostile and estranged ex-wife, but the best-laid plans of men and mechanical women may not run smoothly…

Henceforward…, by comparison, ran very smoothly, with its Scarborough premiere being followed by a Vaudeville Theatre run in London a year later that brought home the Evening Standard Best Comedy Award.

This autumn's Scarborough revival comes in the wake of a hugely successful production last year at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, Germany, that opened in February 2015 and was so popular, regularly playing to full houses in the 1200-seat theatre, that the run was extended and the show ended up playing for over a year.

Now Ayckbourn is directing a cast of Bill Champion, Andy Cryer, Russell Dixon, Jessie Hart, Velvet Hebditch, Jacqueline King and Laura Matthews in Scarborough rep from September 8 to October 8, as time catches up with his 1987 predictions of life and robot woes four decades into the future.

"It was written in 1987 when I was trying to foresee the future 40 years on, and it's been interesting to see what I got right; what I got wrong; what is yet to happen, and one of the things that has become very relevant is the transgender aspect," says Alan. "Androids are still on the verge of visiting us, but are not doing so just yet, though artificial intelligence is developing."

Ayckbourn foresaw sampling from computers. "It's technology that my grandson can now do on his laptop, though I hadn't foreseen it galloping ahead as much as it has," he says.

"I've tried not to update the script, except where there are glaringly obvious things that have changed, but elsewhere there are references to gated communities, which are now quite common, and no-go areas that aren't policed and places of inner-city desolation, so the play holds up well."

Did Ayckbourn think of updating
Henceforward… to 40 years from now? "No. I think what inspired me to do it again was the production in Hamburg that was a total sell-out and affirmed that as a comedy it still holds true," he says. "The basis of the comedy is machines versus humans and I feel that sort of comic possibility is slightly more central to our lives now than it was."

Ayckbourn has always enjoyed technology, not least in Ridley Scott's representation of technology in his films, such as 1982's
Blade Runner, with its four escaped and damaged Replicants. "In Henceforward…, my androids are slightly faulty, with one having a limp that creeks," he says. "In my experience of technology, it always breaks down, and that I suspect is the case for 90 per cent of the human race, and more and more it seems that people are now having 'heart attacks' over their computers' behaviour, which is completely pointless when computers are heartless and yet we react to them!"

The passing of 40 years will bring different vistas for potential laughs or knowing reactions to
Henceforward…. "When I first wrote it, very few people had mobile phones, but those who don't one are now in the minority and I'm expecting groans of recognition at certain things," says Alan.

"Whereas the play was slightly strange to some of my audience in 1987, now that world is with us and what isn't with us yet is just around the corner, and you know that someone will be inventing a babysitting machine that will create a terrible tragedy."

Website Notes:
[1] Alan Ayckbourn did direct the North American premiere of
Henceforward… at the Alley Theatre, Houston, in October 1987 and the West End premiere at the Vaudeivlle Theatre in September 1988 before directing the 2017 revival.

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