In His Own Words: Marriage

Marriage and relationships are one of the key themes of Alan Ayckbourn's plays over the decades. This page contains quotes (listed by year) by Alan Ayckbourn on the subject. 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.
In 1958, the 19 year old Alan Ayckbourn wrote the unpublished and unperformed play The Party Game; one of his earliest surviving works. It is fascinating as the lead character - a young writer - makes the following statement - a statement which Alan has frequently recited, almost verbatim, in his own interviews over subsequent years.

“When two people get married, they make a hell of a lot of promises, to each other, to God… and they’ve no right to make them. I mean, how do they know how what they’ll feel like in twenty years or even five years. Nobody can be that certain. The chances are they’ll both either get bored to tears with each other, stick it grimly to the end and both die miserably or else get a divorce and break a promise they shouldn’t have made in the first place.” (1958)

“My work is about men’s inhumanity to women, women’s inhumanity to men and the physical world’s inhumanity to us all.” (1990)

"We [Christine Roland and Alan Ayckbourn] married young, you see, and when that happens there's the danger that one day you'll wake up and ask yourself what on earth you're doing in this situation. Then you do one of three things - divorce, blow up at each other all the time, or stay together and try to make it work." (1971)

"Writing about a man and a woman who are not married is so limiting. Within marriage there's the stuff of limitless drama." (1974)

"The greatest charm of marriage, in fact that which renders it irresistible to those who have once tasted it, is the duologue, the permanent conversation between two people which talks over everything and everyone until death breaks the record. I'm certain that this, above all, is what holds a marriage together. It sounds ridiculous to reduce it to the word 'familiarity', but that's what it is; something commonplace and marvellous. Occasionally - and sometimes more often than that - one is tempted to go off and start again with a new woman or a new man. But you're faced with the sheer effort of having to create a brand new relationship, and all this domestic shorthand you've absorbed - when you can actually grunt across a room and your partner knows what you mean and can grunt back - is immensely satisfying." (1974)

"Love is playing with gelignite. Someone always gets their hands blown off." (1974)

"It was an appallingly cynical start [to his marriage]. My wife Christine and I were both acting in rep and one week we were playing in Leicester where the bookings were very thin. The company manager had this bright idea. 'We need a good publicity stunt,' he said. 'Now, we've seen you two in the back of the van a few times, so why not announce your engagement. It would be wonderful for the papers.' So we duly got engaged and there was this lovely photo on the front page of the local rag saying 'Actors find love in Leicester'. The plan was that we should get 'disengaged' when we got to Newcastle, but somehow we never got round to it. We got married instead." (1974)

"Marriage is not necessarily awful in itself. It's the awfulness of promising to give up one's life to one partner of the opposite sex. A lot of marriages are made at an early age when people should be restrained from making such rash promises. You have not been through marriage until you start hurling things at each other. Particularly if you marry at 19 - you grow up with each other and quarrel like children." (1978)

"The other thing I suppose it [the play, Sisterly Feelings] says is that it doesn't make all that much bloody difference anyway. Unlike a lot of plays which say you always get married to the wrong person, it also says you get married to the right person: if you don't like them, it's probably your fault for being the sort of person you are. You've got the person you deserve." (1981)

"There are marriages where people have never had a cross word at 70, but that's not very interesting in a play. What we want to see in a play is someone having a worse time than us." (1984)

"Marriage can lead to deadly complacency. A relationship based on total insecurity might be even worse. A shade of insecurity - say ten per cent - is a good thing." (1984)

"I don't feel negative about marriage as such but just the way people love together, how men and women fail to understand each other. One does see so many sad marriages, and if people relate to my plays I presume it is because it must often be like that out there." (1985)

"I am fascinated by how tenuous relationships are. Someone can walk into a couple's life and blow everything sky high." (1986)

"I find a great loneliness in people, a great lack of understanding between people. I tend to emphasise mostly the lack of understanding that exists between men and women." (1986)

"I think a big piece of us dies in marriage. Men and women, exposed to each other's personalities over the years, tend to drive each other nuts." (1987)

"I've always said that you've got to have been in love once, and probably broken up once, before you can get anything out of my plays - they are about people who have been bitten by life a bit, and are just starting to sort themselves out again. People relate to them more. Most of us, unless we are very dishonest, have difficult relationships. We expect a lot from people and can't or don't understand or appreciate them." (1987)

"I mistrust happy relationships very much. I think a big piece of us dies in marriage. I don't think it's for me." (1990)

"The marriages I do see are either fraught or dull. There are one or two happy ones, but that's probably because they're new. In general, I don't think people were meant to live with each other too long. As soon as people feel that they are married, there's a sense of entrapment." (1990)

"When I started writing, at about 25, I was angry, partly because I felt very bad about not being able to carry on with my marriage. For anybody who marries under 20, it is a miracle if it survives 'til they are 30. It's because you haven't really grown or formulated your own personality. Adults seem to encourage you into marriage but they never tell you just what it means to promise yourself to someone for the next 85 years. It is a hell of a promise. I was a solemn young man and I took it rather seriously, so I was rather ashamed of myself for having to break it." (1991)

"I just think we do such terrible things to each other in the name of love. Of course it has to be said that bad relationships make good theatre. I always say that audiences like my plays because they have a gentle feeling of superiority - they say 'Well, we have got problems but nothing like those.'" (1991)

"I make the marriages as happy as I see them. I think a little piece of us dies in marriage. We can't keep the initial spark. Once the little blaze of kerosene that started the bonfire settles down to a gentle crackle, we wonder whether we've got enough fuel to keep it going. Sometimes we look around and there's absolutely nothing left." (1991)

"Love often goes wrong, is misguided, misplaced. It fires at totally unsuitable people, people who often belong to other people. I'm talking about sexual love. Spiritual love between the sexes, platonic love, I don't really believe in. People may find they come to a deep friendship, but only after the blood-letting has occurred." (1991)

"My plays do appear to be terribly English and indeed the trimmings are, but underneath, they deal with basic human relationships. 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)

"They say there is no point coming to a play of mine unless you've had at least one unhappy love affair or experienced unrequited love." (1992)

"Affected by the insanity of physical love, you may find yourself with somebody who in saner moments you wouldn't even consider having dinner with." (1992)

"I'm prepared to believe there may be the odd fluke where two strangers meet and find they have common interest, just sufficient differences to make it a little bit exciting and a tremendous on-going sexual relationship, but for most people it doesn't work like that. You make promises you have no right to make - that you should be legally stopped from making. At 19 I believed you should stand by what you said, but there was no way I could have stood by those promises until I was 70. Then comes a tremendous feeling of failure. First you think there is a flaw in you, then, later on, you notice practically everyone you know has broken up. It isn't you: it is the rotten institution." (1993)

"I’m always amazed that some of the worst behaviour is propagated by people who are in love. We seem to save our worst behaviour for those we love. The reason is, of course, a desperation to communicate, to be loved." (1997)

"The thing about love is that it never leaves you. You got through life thinking, 'it's over now. I've been through my teens, 20s, 30s.' Then, wallop." (1997)

"Love is a subject that's never far away from our thoughts, I've observed that we often save the best of ourselves, but also the worst of ourselves, for the ones we fall in love with. For every happy couple coming together, there is often a jilted lover in the background; some betrayed husband or wife who has lost out." (1997)

"It happens. At the age of 35-45, you decide all that sex is over. You say, 'let's settle down like civilised human beings' - and then
blam, the old glandular machine kicks in again. People who've been terrific to their partners through every difficulty are suddenly brushed aside. History is littered by people who have trampled over lovers, wives, best friends to get at each other." (1997)

"I don't have a lot of faith in plays about happy marriages. What you really want to see in theatre, I think, is some relationship a little bit worse than your own. Then you feel encouraged.” (2000)
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.