Henceforward...: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play Henceforward... by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"If this is not quite tragedy - Jerome doesn't feel pain quite enough to make us feel it with him - it is certainly another satisfyingly unhappy denouement of what has mostly been richly comic, though this is one of those plays where the central character drives the plot and those around him mostly get the laughs. The science-fiction element has been integrated in a particularly effective way: when Jerome tells Corinna and Mervyn that Nan 'has more dignity, more sense of loyalty and responsibility than any other 50 women you can name put together', he is identifying very precisely what some men seem to want from women and, perhaps more sadly, what some women will try to be in order to please them. None the less, although Nan is a robot, she is also defective (like human beings) and still retains aspects of what she was before Jerome modified her. Her 'personality' is being interfered with in a simplified form of what Jerome has done to the likeable Zoë This is Jerome's way with women (we barely see him with men): they might as well be robots. It makes Corinna's desperation utterly comprehensible, if not altogether sympathetic. And Nan's mechanical readiness to oblige is placed in neat counterpoint to Mervyn's attempt to extend the bounds of possibility with his bleeping telephones, location finder and defence system; none of it truly compensates for his own wet incompetence."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide To Alan Ayckbourn's Plays, 2004, Faber)

"Ayckbourn is both warning us [in Henceforward...] that we are in danger of using hi-tech as a substitute for true feeling and, I believe, writing a play about the plight of the modern artist: a cocooned hermit with the machinery to say everything but with nothing left to say."
(Michael Billington, source to be confirmed, 1987)

"Two established dramatists did, however, end the decade with their reputations greatly enhanced: Alan Ayckbourn and David Hare. For all their obvious differences, what unites them is their tireless dedication to the idea of theatre and their fierce moral concern with the state of the nation. Ayckbourn began the decade with Way Upstream and a group of characters drifting aboard a cabin-cruiser towards Armageddon Bridge. He went on to tackle sanctioned greed in A Small Family Business, social disintegration and the technological nightmare in Henceforward..., the cult of the criminal in Man Of The Moment. Ayckbourn's genius is to make us laugh while exposing the moral bankruptcy of the age."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian, 28 December 1989)

"Ayckbourn is making the point that humankind is complex, contradictory, confused, messy and, above all, phenomenally interesting in a way that machines never can be. Jerome's whole tragedy is that he cannot see that; and it is symbolised by the moment where he defends the NAN 300F model even though production was aborted after one of them put a baby in a microwave oven. That is Jerome's predicament in a nutshell; but the full tragedy of his position only becomes clear in the closing seconds. Corinna's reiterated cry of 'Love' in conversation has given him the vocal pattern he needs for his perfect sound; and at the end he rejects wife, daughter and life itself to play with the synthesised sound, oblivious to the fact that missiles are clanging against the shutters and the Daughters of Darkness have penetrated his inner sanctum. As the stage directions indicate: 'He sits all alone. And realises how alone he is.'… [
Henceforward…] is still, after its hesitant first act, a remarkable play in that it dramatises Ayckbourn's own fears and guilts and in that it projects us not into sci-fi fantasy but into a just recognisable future. It makes us ask whether we are, literally, enthralled by our word-processors and domestic computers, whether we do actually prefer rational machines to irrational human beings and whether the streets of our towns and cities are becoming as bogey-haunted as the woods in a Grimm fairy-tale. Ayckbourn has written many more amenable plays. But Henceforward… is a theatrical early-warning system of considerable prophetic power."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"The point about the social worker in
Henceforward… is that we gather that he himself is almost like a machine. He is wired up for all emergencies. When he takes off his jacket, the back of his waistcoat is a tangle of extraordinary wires and machinery that set off various alarms through which he can signal any kind of distress to his wife or to, indeed, the council. The impression we get is that machine-like and not quite human officials are trying to sort out very human problems of desperately ordinary people and that really, in a way, it hardly matters who is machine and who is not a machine. What you end up with is a) an extremely funny comedy, which is based on one of the most essential comic assumptions about people i.e. that they’re not quite like people and b) a questioning of what really all this stuff called morality is all about. Why is it so important to be human? Why are we better than machines? Wouldn’t life be simpler if we were dealing with machines, indeed if we ourselves were machines - and the sneaking thought occurs to me that perhaps we are. Like all best science-fiction, I think, Ayckbourn is asking very moral questions under a rather extraordinary form and it works extremely well because of the tremendous gripping and punchy quality of his comedy.
The answer to that [does Alan Ayckbourn provide answers to this questions], as with most very good playwrights, is yes and no. I think we feel that at the end that Jerome hasn’t really won. It really isn’t enough to be a machine because a machine can’t take responsibility. I know this sounds a little pompous and Ayckbourn’s writing is anything but pompous, but I do think we come away with the impression that if Jerome had only exercised a little more consideration and understanding of himself, of other people, of the world, I don’t think he would have ended up fighting his way through the machine-like people and people-like machines.
(John Peters, BBC World Service Meridian, 7 August 1987)

"In a comic, yet highly disturbing fantasy that never lets an audience forget the horrors of the present, the focus on the performer underscores a terrifying theme: in losing his ability to love, man is metamorphosing into machine."
(Albert F. Kalson, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"[At the play's climax] the artist is at last fulfilled, but the audience is painfully aware that he is alone. He has so fragmented the sounds that make up the word 'love' that it can hold no meaning for anyone but the self-indulgent creator of meaningless madness. He search for love, his attempt to re-establish a relationship with the daughter he no longer recognises, has only been a means to an end - to process human relationships through bloodless machines."
(Albert F. Kalson, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"It is typical of Ayckbourn's disillusionment with the materialism of the late 1980s that he can write with such intensity about its essential inhumanity."
(John Wu: Six Contemporary Dramatists, 1995, St Martin's Press)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.