Alan Ayckbourn: In His Own Words

On being a writer...
"Story telling was part of my upbringing - probably the result during my early years of having a mother as a writer who also spent most of her time writing in order to feed our single parent family of two! What choice did I have?" (2014)

His background...
"I am middle class. I was born middle class and was brought up in Sussex, the stepson of a bank manager so you cannot get more middle class than that. (1990)

Writer or director?
"I always consider myself as a director who writes rather than a writer who directs, because directing takes up so much of my time." (1988)

First steps into theatre...
"My first ambition was to be a journalist, but after having divorced my father, my mother eventually and wisely married her local bank manager, and I got a bank scholarship to Haileybury. There I suddenly became interested in acting and the theatre, and at 17 I decided to pack in my schooling. A teacher at the school got me a job at £3 a week with Sir Donald Wolfit's company at the Edinburgh Festival and I was off into a mad world." (1975)

And to writing...
"I have never made any decisions, they have always been made for me. I started out as an actor, and I was incredibly lucky, never out of work. Not that I was that good, but somehow I never wrote a letter or did an audition in my life, it just went from the end of one season to the beginning of another, bonk, bonk, bonk. Entirely due to circumstances and possibly because I never did take any action. I could look back on my life and say I planned it that way, but I didn't plan to be an actor, nor a director, nor a writer. They ran out of writers." (1972)

His mentor, Stephen Joseph...
"Stephen was a Renaissance man, very interested in practically everything. He knew more about the art of playwriting than anyone I've met. He knew more about the art of acting than anyone I've met and he knew more about directing. But he wasn't very good at any of them. He was an awful writer but he knew what should be written. He was easily bored but he knew how to delegate, thank goodness, or I would never have got started, and he knew how to inspire." (2005)

Stephen Joseph's influence...
"For those who knew him, he was dynamic and an inspiration and really affected those around him.... On a personal level he had an enormous influence on me. He had the complete, some would say lunatic, disregard in allowing me to write for him." (2005)

Other influences...
"I was very lucky I grew up at the crossroads for English drama. So I absorbed a lot of the old-fashioned, well-made plays, and then came [John] Osborne and [Harold] Pinter, who was an enormous influence of me. I even acted in an early production of “The Birthday Party,” which he directed. He was an extraordinarily unique voice. So I’m influenced by the Chekhovs through to the Pinters really. I was blessed with a double upbringing." (2013)

Coming to Scarborough...
“I came to Scarborough in 1957 as a sprog assistant stage manager playing small parts. I remember I got off the train packed with holidaymakers and this bracing air and smell of chips. I said, 'Wow!' Because I was an inland child living in north Sussex, one of the great treats as a child was a trip to the seaside - so, dear reader, I bought the sweet shop. I came to the seaside and stayed. I thought, 'This can't get better'.” (2008)

The appeal of Scarborough...
"Scarborough discovered me. I just happened to be around then. A town of that size suits me far better. I must be provincial by nature but I like the size of a place like that because I can see the other side of it - almost. I love the winter up there. You have to like very wild, quite cold seas coming up about a hundred feet.... It's really our town then, very quiet." (1980)

The appeal of theatre-in-the-round...
"It [theatre in the round] brings us back to the basic building blocks of theatre, just actors and audience without anything getting in between. It is electrifying: you get so close to the actors. Every time I work on a proscenium arch stage, I come back here saying, 'Now I see why the round is the only way." (1992)

On writing...
"The joy of the English language is its infinite capacity for being misunderstood." (1987)

"People do a lot of damage to each other with the best intentions. And I seem to write mostly about that. Love can do a lot of unintended damage." (1991)

"My work is about men's inhumanity to women, women's inhumanity to men and the physical world's inhumanity to us all." (2014)

"I hope my plays hold up in 400 years; that's the real test." (1990)

On how to make theatre appealing…
"It has to do with the word fun. There are lots of new plays about worthy subjects, things that need to be aired. Plays should have content and have something to say about society or individuals but we have got so tied up with content that we have forgotten how to tell it. It is surely possible to say important things about the community and still retain dramatic structures and sense - and a sense of humour. The British don't like being preached at." (1996)

On his characters
"I have nothing against my characters. They're usually nice and well-meaning and I met a lot of them when I was growing up." (1980)

"One or two critics get a bit upset by my stuff because they think it pokes fount the best of human nature. But I'm really showing how sad it is that some people can try to be nice and that it sometimes doesn't work. I'm saying that a lot of the worst things that happen in life are the result of well-meaning actions." (1980)

On premiering the majority of his plays in Scarborough
"One of the few things that really angers me is to read that I 'try out' my plays in Scarborough. On the contrary, I produce them here and subsequently, if I'm lucky, they are tried out elsewhere." (1983)

The importance of theatre in his life...
“Two things I live for. One is being in a rehearsal room. The other is writing a new play. As soon as a new play comes out there's a terrible moment of post-partum emptiness - and then another idea comes in, sometimes two or three. I just can't imagine being alive without a play in me somewhere.” (2008)

His favourite poem…
“I have re-read Keats and re-attempted Milton and even opened a dusty edition of Tennyson - but in the end, I have to confess that my most favourite poem is The More It Snows (Tiddly Pom) by Pooh. It seems to sum up the human condition so precisely.” (1985)

Thoughts on his stroke in 2006...
"I woke up and for the first time in my life I didn’t have a single idea in my head and that was very frightening and very lonely. I was lying there in hospital thinking ‘help’ and then I said to myself ‘well, I’ve got a good back catalogue I can live off that as a director’. But the new ideas had gone and there was usually always at least one bubbling below the surface. Six months later, I had a little idea and I thought, ‘thank God, I’m still active’. (2013)

Life after the stroke...
"In hospital, I thought as long as one arm worked, I could probably write. I'd probably need an arm and a leg to direct." (2008)

On looking back...
"I never look back too much, really. I’m always running from the first night eager to get on with the new play, partly as protective covering. But, as Michael Bogdanov once said to me, if you keep running they can’t hit you." (2009)

On his legacy...
"I listen to Radio 3 and they say, 'Here's music by a contemporary of Mozart called Bogliatore whose Second Symphony was the most popular at the time. He eclipsed Mozart and is now completely forgotten.' And I think, 'Here's an object lesson for us all.' (2014)

And a final thought.
I am a playwright. Right?
Writing is part of my ancient rite.
It is my god-given right to write.
I exercise that, quite rightly, and
Write, write, write….
(2004)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.