When he joined the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in 1957, Alan Ayckbourn was set on being an actor. Little did he know he would become one of England's most successful and well-respected playwrights; in fact, he would go on... [more]
When he joined the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in 1957, Alan Ayckbourn was set on being an actor. Little did he know he would become one of England's most successful and well-respected playwrights; in fact, he would go on to become the first living playwright to be knighted since Noel Coward. Encouraged and mentored by Stephen Joseph, who believed that the presence of the playwright was integral to the theater, Ayckbourn began writing (under the pseudonym Roland Allen) in order to provide himself with leading parts. He would soon drop acting altogether for an extremely prolific writing career.
Ayckbourn's early plays are neat little farces that skewer the middle class. This light target practice might have miffed some, but the productions played well in the tourist town of Scarborough where the theater was located. Ayckbourn really hit his stride in the early '70s after a five-year stint as a BBC drama producer. Comedies such as "Absurd Person Singular" (1973) and "The Norman Conquests" (1974) gained him critical attention and are now popular classics of the London stage. Today, Ayckbourn is the artistic director of Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round. While he has directed several at the National Theatre, he prefers to premiere the vast majority of his plays at this smaller, fringe theater.
Ayckbourn's plays have been called "comic jigsaws," but his playwriting technique (which he has broadcast over the radio, published, and taught in workshops) is deceptively simple. He begins with an idea, then a character, then another, and then structures a situation to bring all of them together. In "Intimate Exchanges" a character's dilemma, to smoke or not to smoke, branches out into eight separate plays with 16 different endings. Out of triviality comes Ayckbourn's grinning commentary about manners and everyday constraints.
Bourgeois domestic discontent recurs as a dominant theme in Ayckbourn's work, but recent plays use darker, futuristic motifs to poke fun at the present. "Comic Potential" imagines future soap operas as written by computer formula and peopled by androids. "Communicating Doors," the story of a dominatrix confessor, employs time travel by way of an enchanted wardrobe. (Hmmmm.... sounds familiar.)
Critics make much of the playwright's ability to combine hilarity with poignancy, but Ayckbourn declines to comment. "I always think that I'm entirely a creation of other people's opinions," Ayckbourn told one interviewer in 1999. "People argue furiously about whether the plays are serious or just funny, but I've never made any claims for them. I just write them." [show less]