Henceforward...: Interviews With Alan Ayckbourn

This section includes interviews with Alan Ayckbourn by his Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, as well as other authors.

This interview is drawn from the playwright's personal correspondence and is held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York. No other details are held about the interview.

Henceforward… Questions

Is there any future to mankind?
Alan Ayckbourn:
One has to pray there is. I write plays in the hope that there is a point in continuing the debate as to how we should behave towards each other, treat each other. I think there was, a few years back - possibly in the sixties - a false dawn when many of us especially the young believed that we'd reached the summit. Love is all you need, to quote the Beatles. Alas, no. Food is all you need. Medical supplies are all you need. Unrestricted use of air space is all you need. I refuse to believe we're finished as a race. But I believe we have a millennium or so to go.

Is there any future for a relationship between man and woman?
Here I'm a lot more optimistic. Yes. Things are already looking better. Especially amongst the young. Well, some of them.

What extent does the laugh give to serious talking (conversation)?
I'm not quite sure what that question means, so I'll answer the question I think it means. Laughter is important in conversation at any level, but on stage it's vital. I am sometimes asked, when will you write a serious play? I think (I hope!) people mean by that a play without any laughter. The answer is, never. Without laughter I wouldn't connect with half the audience that I do connect with. Most people come to my plays not because they want to listen to lectures on how they should or shouldn't live but because they want to laugh and they know I've given them that in the past. There's nothing to stop me making what I hope are fairly pertinent observations about my fellow man to them while they're laughing. But I'm first an entertainer.

How personal are Jerome's problems to you?
Some of them are very close to me. Namely the question whether
in the end Art can ever be more important than Life. There can't be an artist alive who hasn't at some point in his life stood back for a moment - say, during a quarrel, or a declaration of love - and horrifiedly found himself observing it. And said to himself, My God, what am I doing up here? Why aren't I down there being involved?’ But I think, like Jerome, if I'd had a good idea - like he did, I'd have stopped behind to write it.

Do you use a word processor for writing your plays?
Yes. I used to write them in pencil and then dictate them. I was very superstitious about changing my methods of working. But I wrote A Chorus of Disapproval on a word processor and now I'm completely won over. It puts me in direct contact with the final print out - including the layout of the speeches.

Your opinion about a director's loyalty to the dramatist's text?
Perhaps understandably since I practise both roles, I believe that a director should start from the text and only depart from it when all else fails. I think many directors start from their own conceptions and appear only to consult the text in an emergency. Good plays should provide ample material for a director and cast to work from. Most attempts to 'interpret' a play, be it Shakespeare or Ibsen, result in a diminishing of the text. Because, let's face it, there are very few directors who are intellectually, and certainly none who are creatively, superior to a dramatist. They're interpreters, that's all.
Their attempts occasionally to make a play say something personal to them merely shrink the canvas. A great play's strength is that it deals in general universal truths that touch us all.

How strongly do you believe in the ability of a drama to solve the problems between men and women in our modern society?
Hardly at all. It can help us a little with the human and domestic ones - it can help at best to humanise us, if you like. To understand each other a little better. But it can never hope to solve - as plays sometimes set out to do - political or wide social issues. First, because such attempts necessarily oversimplify things; and second because none of the people who actually run our lives ever go near a theatre. Well, they don't in this country. To meet a politician who goes regularly to the theatre is like meeting a blue unicorn. The only consolation is that good theatre lasts a damn sight longer than even the best politicians.

Copyright: Music Technology. 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.