Henceforward...: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Alan Ayckbourn's introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 1
While I was waiting a year to direct that [A Small Family Business at the National Theatre] (the National always need things so far in advance) I wrote Henceforward.... This combined two or three of my interests at the time. It's a play about the creative process: always difficult to portray on stage and rarely that convincing. Actors sitting pretending to be novelists, scratching away fiercely with quill pens whilst declaiming their prose aloud at twice the speed they are supposedly writing - Wuthering Heights in five days. It never makes good theatre. Nor do classical composers humming or painters holding up one thumb and squinting, and as for poets ... But a modern composer, that was a different matter, especially one who worked entirely electronically with pre-sampled and generated sound. The result there could be, with only the smallest dramatic licence, quite immediate.
Henceforward... is on the surface a comedy but it does present a gloomy prediction of a possible future world where society, maybe as a direct result of the behaviour portrayed in A Small Family Business, has all but collapsed. And I suppose any play in which the hero allows his wife and daughter to die whilst he finishes writing his latest composition can't be considered all funny. (I wonder where I got this reputation for being a comic dramatist.)
Jerome, the composer, was based on someone whom I met briefly one Christmas: an art historian who chose to live, or rather to remain living, in one of the bleaker of our Northern inner-city no-go zones. Alone on the top floor of his vandalised and abandoned tower block he sat writing, surrounded by the sounds, the images and the beauty of Renaissance music and art. 'Why do you stay there?' I asked him. His answer was quite chilling. 'I feel', he said, 'that if I go, then the light might finally go out completely.' The idea that each of us has a duty to provide illumination, as it were, in order that others might see more clearly is an image that has remained with me.
Henceforward... also provided me with the opportunity to indulge my love of robots. In particular the British (sorry-about-that-mate-we're-still-waiting-for-the-part) sort of robot: totally eccentric, idiosyncratic, unserviceable and unreliable.
Origins Of Life (according to the author)
Over the years, I have regularly been asked (along with most writers, I suspect) where do my characters come from? My short answer will vary between "No idea" to "From my head".
The truth is that the latter answer, although rather more precise, is only the tip of the truth, leading to the further question, 'Then how did they get there in the first place?' To which question I generally have no answer at all. A major part of any character I create is largely based on myself, be it young or old, male or female, good or bad; the 'inner me' makes up a good percentage of any character.
Then, because I'm a dramatic writer, there's also the not inconsiderable contribution made by the actor playing it (the 'inner them'). Every dramatic character who appears onstage is effectively a blend of dramatist and performer, at best a blessed offspring of a happy union; at worst a cursed child from a marriage made in hell. Though, in this author's case who generally acts as an intermediary midwife, the birth is generally reasonably painless.
But there is, added to this genetic mix, a further source from which the characters are usually drawn, aside from the author and performer, namely the nearest and dearest of the two procreators. The actor will occasionally confide in me that they have based this particular character on their eccentric Aunt Maude or their weird Uncle Barry. As author, my source material is generally more oblique, less immediately attributable, 'borrowed', as I like to put it, from friends and family. After all, which of us ever recognises a portrait of ourselves? Answer: quite a number of us, actually.
I once included a character based on a local councillor which was so unflattering, so ridiculous (though only very slightly exaggerated) that it veered perilously close to myself as the first public performance drew closer, he'll surely never recognise himself, will he? And indeed after the show, he apparently hadn't. I'd got away with it. The same councillor subsequently returned to see the show several times and after the final performance he came up to congratulate me on what he told me was one of his favourite plays of mine thus far. He enquired whether the show would have a future life after Scarborough possibly in the West End. On learning that it would have, he declared, "Oh, good! I'm so pleased!" Then he added, "Have they got anyone to play me yet?'
Henceforward... denotes the point in my writing life when the guilt finally got to me. After years of first nights, facing the reproachful stares of close family continually recognising themselves, wives, mothers, children (God, I even stole bits of my children! What kind of monster steals from his own kids?), my wife said to me (not the current one!): "I actually believed that was a private moment between us. How could you - in front of all these people?' To which I airily answered, "Well, no one knows that was us, surely? A hurt silence, then she whispered,"I did!"
The character of Jerome, although loosely based on feelings of guilt I had at the time, is of course nothing at all like me. After all, Jerome steals bits of people and really doesn't even care at all, no scrap of remorse, completely shameless. I was never as bad as that!
Although, come to think of it, thirty years later I'm not so sure. I'm still stealing blatantly from my (diminishing) circle of friends. But to hell with it, they shouldn't be so sensitive, should they?
Anyway, I don't care. Publish and be damned! Want to be my friend, do you?
Personal correspondence by Alan Ayckbourn
What inspired me to write the play?
Well, several things. A fascination with the way the creative process can so often eclipse real life.
It is all too common for artists to plunder real life emotions, to re-use them to their own ends - sometimes at the expense of genuine emotion.
I thought it would be interesting to write a play about a man who whilst searching desperately, personally and professionally, for real love fails to recognise it from his own family.
It is a play about the creative process. And how dangerous it can be.
It's a play about the future, of course. Of one way urban life could develop (some would say in certain areas, has already developed).
It's a play about how we manipulate, or try to manipulate those we choose to live with. In this case how Jerome tries to make the Zoë robot into a perfect woman - but how unsatisfactory the result from the living breathing Zoë, faults and all.
Of our acceptance of sexual stereotypes.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.