Henceforward...: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"It's an ironic fable. I've rather taken to writing, not quite morality plays, but certainly close to it. My last play, A Small Family Business was seen by some as a morality play, and I hope this will be too....
"We all try to alter each other subtly, and this man has the chance to change the people around him completely. But it's like Pygmalion - try and alter someone, and they either become a monster, or lose their individuality."
(Scarborough Evening News, 29 July 1986)
"At first, I thought that Henceforward... would be a long way away. But most of the technology is almost with us - except for the robotic part.
"It is really an allegory about the creative person and his ability or inability to work with people. It steals from life, and explores the nature of love. It's meant to be a comedy, but people can find it disturbing too."
(Houston Chronicle, 4 October 1987)
"The set came about because I was trying to write about a creative artist, which is always a dangerous thing to do because creative artists are notoriously difficult to portray on stage. A composer seemed to be a good idea. I had worked quite a lot with Paul Todd, who is the resident MD [Musical Director] here, and over the years we've used a lot of the latest music technology. Before I started to write we investigated the state of the art in music computers, and in this case we went to look at a Synclavier, of which there are only about two or three in the country. It is a fascinating American machine, and a very clever programmer showed us around it. We saw about a fiftieth of what it could do in about three or four hours. It convinced me that it was the sort of machine that would suit my purposes, particularly as I was intending to push the play a little bit into the future.
"The nub of the play asks to what extent is an artist justified in pillaging his personal life in order to express himself throughout. In the end, doesn't he destroy his personal life, and how much does art matter over human relationships? In the play the composer records everything that happens around him and he creates his music from the verbal and the sounds people make - which was very nice for him and quite infuriating for everybody else! In the end he alienates everyone around him. This was the starting point. It was then a matter of actually recording this and getting the Synclavier to do it for me. I think we have about five minutes music in all the show, but it took at least eight weeks to produce. One had to use a little dramatic licence and advance the state of the art a few years:"
(Lighting And Sound International, February 1988)
"It seemed to me that a writer, or a playwright or a novelist, on stage is one of the most boring characters you can think of because there is nothing to see. Somehow or other I wanted an audience to get as close to an act of creation as they could. It seemed important that in the end, he, my hero should do something.... One of the major elements of the play is the way a writer pirates the personal experiences he has. And in a sense can sometimes betray them. I wanted to say this not too ponderously but at the same time make a point. A man who kept digital recorders running all the time in every single room in the house including the bathroom seemed to me the ultimate - the man obsessed with 'the right sound'."
(Music Technology, November 1988)
"Henceforward... asks two questions. Is what the creative artist does relevant to what goes on, or is it a sideshow; and, as technology continues to grow, will the creative artist's role still be there? I don't really answer them except to say that there are times when one feels, as a so-called creative artist, totally irrelevant. In the nuclear shelter, I probably wouldn't get precedence over the plumber. Creative artists often do detach themselves from the real world, and they plunder from it quite freely. People tell you things and then look at you reproachfully as they see it all trotted back. Jerome [the hero of Henceforward...] is a composer who makes sound by all the modern methods that render most musicians redundant. He uses human voices and to do so, he leaves the tape recorders running all day and all night so nobody in any room of the house is safe. As a result his wife and daughter have upped and left. The play is about his attempts to get his family back - if nobody's talking into your tape recorder, you're stuck.
"It's quite bleak for a play of mine, but it's quite funny. He's inherited an electronic nursemaid with a tendency to murder the children it looks after, so he's got this homicidal tin lady hanging around. He's moulded her into the shape of his wife so he can abuse her in the evenings. The play's full of fables and parables, about how men try to alter women. I'm a great science fiction fan, and it's got bits of that, a touch of Psycho, and of The Fall of the House of Usher, a very gothick play. It's quite a departure for me, known as I am for people bickering over dinner."
(Country Homes And Interiors, December 1988)
"I wanted to write about the act of creation and what you sell out in order to achieve it. I realised that for the first time in the history of theatre you could actually show someone creating. Normally it's 'Emily Bronte sits down left and starts Wuthering Heights' - which is pretty boring dramatically. You could have her chewing her pencil, or Beethoven humming the opening chords of the Fifth Symphony to himself. The great thing about sampling is that it is stealing from life. It's like when you've had an enormous row with your wife and you put that in your play. You get this reproachful look which says: 'I thought this was just between the two of us?' You feel like a thief in the night."
(Birmingham Post, 26 August 1989)
"Some of them [Jerome's problems] 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."
"There's the meeting at the end [between Jerome and Corinna] where old Ironsides - his wife, Corinna, who, out of defence I think, is as tough as old bricks - cracks in half and shows all to him. I said to the actress playing her, 'Never should a woman have said "I love you" with more conviction than this woman does; never has a man been quite so loved with no holds barred; and never has he turned away a bigger bunch of flowers.' Because instead of accepting it he recognises it as the very sound he wanted for his piece [of music]."
(Interview with John Wu, 1992)
Regarding the question of the fate of the characters at the climax of the play:
"His [Jerome's] family almost certainly dies as a result [of his decision not to leave with his family], and he's left with a piece of useless junk, really. I think what the play says is that drama, or any art, can't exist outside society."*
(Interview with John Wu, 1992)
"It is a disturbing play. It's very hard to write about creative artists without it becoming very boring. They're not very interesting people to write about. Watching Beethoven compose is very boring because he sits there for hours. For the first time, I was able to write about the creative act, but I was also able to link this with the idea that they are aware that practically every thing that happens to them in life-particularly their personal lives - is somewhere being recorded in their head and will later be used as evidence against, if not themselves, other people. And it's a very chilling thought. I suppose it is the guilt in oneself that one uses. Things that were said in anger or love or despair or whatever - and you just refine them and reuse them. I've had reproachful looks from people who said, "I thought that was between us."
"Jerome just goes a stage further. He's looking for love, and it's right under his nose. But in the end he loses his whole family, trying to find it. I defy anybody who's genuinely creative to finish their masterwork without this enormous sense of anticlimax coming over them. You never reach that height you set out for off the blank sheet of paper. It's just impossible, which is why you carry on. "Next time, the next one ... "
"But the other side of that is the play when you do finally lay down the pen and say "That is a masterpiece" - that's the time you give up, because you've either gone completely barking crazy, or you're actually finished. You've finished with your writing; you've reached your limit."
(Personal correspondence, 1995)
"I wanted to write about the nature of the ‘creative’ artist and his/her tendency to take from life - often very personal life - in pursuit of their art. Watching most creative writers at work is akin to watching paint drying. Certainly not a dramatic experience. The idea of using the new musical technology occurred to me. Sampling and instantly arranging. The play is also, of course, a slight retelling of the Pygmalion myth. How we try to manipulate each other....
"Once I had the theme it made sense to move forward a year or so to accommodate the new music technology. Then when I had the idea for the deranged robotics I knew I definitely had to move forward....
"Sci-fi doesn’t have to be Star Wars scale. It can be very simple. Some of the very best stories are the simplest."
"Probably as a result of all those years working with Paul Todd, I was able to solve the problem of how to have a character actually ‘creating’ a work of art onstage - using all the new high tech synthesisers and digital audio systems. Paul wrote the score for this and then spent weeks getting it right on half a million pounds worth of state-of-the-art (borrowed) digital equipment - but then, to be fair, this play is set sometime in the future. One or two people expressed surprise that someone of my age should show such an interest in modern musical processes. Which made me feel very old indeed."
(‘Ayckbourn At 50’ souvenir programme)
"I’m doing a revival of a 1987 piece called Henceforward…, in which I tried to predict the future as it is now. I got quite a lot of it right, some of it wasn’t! I just thought that it was still futuristic enough and germane enough to the present situation, as it is, to merit revival. I was also encouraged with the Germans who have just had a massive success with it in Hamburg only a year ago; my German agent kept writing to say how massive it was, which was nice. So I thought it probably has legs and was worth revisiting."
"I think I was running at a speed at even which my London producer, Michael Codron, was unable to stop as even a few years before he would have said, 'oh no darling, you've got to have a happier ending than this, lets have a dance at the end or something."
"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."
(The Press, 9 September 2016)
* Although it is open to interpretation as to the fates of the characters at the end of the play, it has always been this author's contention that every character will be killed in the immediate after-math of the play - something supported by the playwright in a number of interviews.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn