In His Own Words: Influences

This page contains quotes (listed by year) by Alan Ayckbourn with regard to his influences, particularly Stephen Joseph. They are drawn from a variety of sources and it should always be borne in mind these quotes may not necessarily reflect Alan Ayckbourn's current thoughts on a subject.

Stephen Joseph

"He was the nearest I have ever met to a creative genius." (1975)

"Stephen Joseph took me under his wing. He had that ability… to bring out talents people didn't know they had." (1976)

"Stephen Joseph was something else again, absolutely amazing. He was, I suppose, the first of the Fringe men. He believed in theatre-in-the-round which at that time didn't exist. Everything Stephen's teaching is now now fairly commonplace." (1978)

"Stephen Joseph had a strong emphasis on the practical and an enormous understanding of the technicalities. He helped me enormously on the craft side." (1981)

"We [Scarborough's Library Theatre] were the first of the fringe theatres. I think it would be fair to say that Stephen Joseph started a sort of underground fringe company. And indeed, as all fringe groups are, we were all suspect communists and suspect everything else. As an actor in that company, you didn't mention you worked for it if you were auditioning for another company." (1981)

"He [Stephen Joseph] had the foresight to know that theatre-in-the-round was going to succeed. He watched it being revived in the States - it was a medieval form of theatre, you know - then he came back to a British theatre almost completely dominated by the proscenium arch and introduced it here. What a rumpus it caused...." (1982)

"Stephen Joseph was a real anarchist. He preached the theory that all theatres should self-destruct after seven years. If we're going to do anything it should be keep up-ending things." (1982)

"Stephen Joseph inspired
Relatively Speaking, the last play he was to work with me on. I was writing all kinds of stuff, trying not to sound like everybody else. He told me that if I wanted to break all the rules, which I obviously did, I ought to learn what they were first and write a well-made play with a beginning, middle and end, which you can then despise, and hate me for asking you to write it. I was very grateful to him." (1983)

"What's kept me fresh is Stephen Joseph's maxim that one should constantly break routines and keep wrong-footing actors." (1984)

"It was Stephen Joseph who encouraged me to get into directing and this virtually wiped out my acting career overnight. And while I was directing, my latent writing talent was starting to show." (1988)

"Stephen was up against the Black and White Minstrels, popular singers, music hall - doing theatre in the round was absolute suicide!" (Yorkshire Post, 2 March 2005)

"Stephen was a very weird, eccentric figure. He was also very charismatic - one night, on a civic reception when the Mayor was coming to the theatre, he turned up in a great big jumper and leather trousers - this was in the Fifties! Because of Stephen and because what was happening was so new, we gained this extraordinary reputation. People were saying that we were threatening the status quo - we were even labelled as communists. When you are young it is just what you want - to inspire the disrespect of the establishment." (2005)

"It was very much Stephen's company, he was like an absolute hurricane and without him there was a real fear that the theatre would die with him. He had no apparent heir, apart from me. When he was ill I used to sit with him and we would come up with models for the perfect theatre in the round." (2005)

"For those who knew him, he was dynamic and an inspiration and really affected those around him. It is difficult to calculate his influence, but the fact that he did what he did led directly to the Sheffield Crucible being built the way it was right through to the stages of the National - I think that was all 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)

"Stephen Joseph's maxim is still ringing in my ears. He said every theatre should self-destruct in seven years. That sums him up. I think he meant literally put dynamite in the building on the very last day. I try to take the spirit of that if not the letter. I think what he means is - reinvent yourself. And I like to think we do. Actors who come to work here do remark on how friendly the atmosphere here is. That is something we've retained." (2005)

“Stephen incorporated the writer within the fabric of the company. Shakespeare would not have been unfamiliar with that. But at that time writers were separate people who phoned their stuff in or posted it from the Orkney Islands. You rarely saw them." (2005)

"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)

"I met Stephen at the best stage of my life, the impressionable stage. He was a genuine revolutionary believing in theatre in the round when the establishment pooh-poohed it." (2005)

"Stephen never encouraged my acting, probably wisely, but he always encouraged my writing and directing." (2005)

"He was a real renaissance man - he could talk about anything from combustion engines to the construction of a theatre. He was not a great actor, and quite a sharp director, but he was a really great teacher." (2005)

"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)

"Once I asked
Stephen Joseph, 'What’s the secret of directing?' and he said, 'The secret to directing is to create an atmosphere in which other people feel free to create.' That is the most extraordinarily easy answer and the most difficult thing to achieve. Because you get a group of actors who are different, they’re fairly centred a lot of them, and you can persuade them, cajole them, to work together and sometimes they do very willingly and sometimes with great reluctance. It’s most interesting and informative thing for a dramatist and also I think it brings me a lot closer to the psychology of what makes people tick." (2016)

Stephen Joseph was an exciting man. He was a sort of revolutionary, he introduced new forms of theatre and he had a passion for new work. So the idea that existed then of the dramatist being this remote soul living on the Faroe Islands and posting in a new script was not for him. His idea was the theatre of Shakespeare. The writer was just another member of the team, it didn’t matter who they were. We even had a box office manager who was once writing plays, we were all writing.” (2017)

"Stephen Joseph's death was probably the saddest time of my life. That was the death of a rocket, falling into the sea. I guess for many of us, we remember the energy which he lifted us and thank him very much." (2017)

Other Influences

Edgar Matthews (School Master)
"I was very lucky. I was at school at the time when we had a master, Edgar Matthews, who was a tremendous enthusiast of the theatre. I think there's always one school master in a big organisation who's sort of an actor manager or a producer manager, and he would have become a very large London producer if he hadn't been a French master, and he took us on the most marvellous tours of Shakespeare. We went to the USA and we went to Holland and that really gave me the acting bug." (1974)

Alfred Bradley (BBC Radio Producer)
"Although only a dozen or so years older than I, Alfred turned out to be what I later referred to as one of my 'guardian uncles'; those remarkable people whom I was lucky enough to meet in my early years who subsequently shaped and informed my life. I remain indebted to him." (2011)

Sir Peter Hall (Director)
"Peter was largely instrumental in getting my work taken seriously. Until his offer to stage a play of mine at the newly opened National Theatre, I was considered by many to be a lightweight writer of boulevard comedies but thanks to his faith and encouragement, Peter changed all that for me, both as playwright and later as a director in my own right. I will remember him with gratitude and great fondness." (2017)

Harold Pinter (Playwright / Director)
"Harold Pinter has been a great influence on me. Not particularly what he's written about, but the way he's seen things and allowed his own viewpoint on something to warp it slightly. Then there's his love of picking up phrases, like a poet. He finds a phrase like 'going the whole hog'. There's one of those in The Homecoming. And he just keeps repeating this phrase, which people do in conversation. But then he puts in one too many, which just tips it over into being very funny. That's a trick in a way, but it's also a great ability to hear these phrases and isolate them. Actually, if you listen to a conversation at the next table, which I'm very fond of doing, you may not hear all the words but you'll hear this salient phrase coming back." (1975)

Antn Chekhov (Playwright)
"I am now moving towards my idol Chekhov who wrote the most perfect comedies of understanding." (1976)

"My favourite writer is Chekhov and I've been getting into Ibsen recently, but I don't want people to think that I've gone into some sort of black Nordic depression. Most human endeavours, including trying to take your own life, does have its comic side. I'm concerned to let the impact of the deed sour the sugar." (1986)

"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)
All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd. All quotes are copyright of Haydonning Ltd and credit should be given to 'Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website' if reproduced.