Ayckbourn Talks: The Ticket (2003)

This is an edited transcription of the BBC World Service programme The Ticket, broadcast on 23 August 2003, win which Alan Ayckbourn discusses Sugar Daddies and writing for young people.

Sugar Daddies is an odd tale of a young girl who meets Father Christmas - literally - but he turns out to be a man of dubious past but a very generous present. He’s obviously somewhat quite big in gangland in London although quite old and therefore, apparently, quite mellow - the way old gangsters do, they develop an air of righteousness about them to cover their rather gory past. He has the lament of old age, ‘well things aren’t what they were' and lamenting the honour between the police and the villains that used to exist, which is all gone now and you can’t tell the difference between either of them - in his opinion.

In a sense, I try and explore new areas with each play and I guess, naturally, that some of them are darker. I think what happened is that when I started, I was writing situation comedies. I wrote plays where a lot of things happened, one thing after another. And so the characters were forced to chase the plot. And as I went on and became more confident as a writer, I started exploring character and when you explore character you go through that surface layer of confused and benign into something rather darker. You begin to explore the other riches of human nature.

I adore children’s writing. I started it because I thought - and I identified as someone who ran a theatre - that very few plays were being written particularly for the 6 year old to 12 year old age group. They were either doled out with commercial pantomimes or things that I thought, frankly, were rather patronising. I wanted to write plays that I hoped would seem seamless to them when they reached the age of 13, so they would think, ‘I’ll go and see an adult play.’ There wasn’t a huge jump, they were talking about the same issues in a way.

I enjoy writing, which is nice. And in the last 30 years or so, I’ve become slightly more than a writer because I also direct them myself. So when I’ve written a play, I almost immediately - within a couple of months - go into a rehearsal room with it and a set of actors. So I have the pleasure - which I think some writers are denied - of actually sharing the work directly with the people who are going to produce it, so that keeps me going. The joy of the rehearsal room really.

The great thing for writers is to not to talk about where you get it from as you’re always terrified you’ll stand on the source of something - like standing on someone’s hosepipe, you’ll stop the water from flowing! I try not to think about it.

One does meet people from quite unusual parts of the world who say, ‘I once saw your play in Japanese.’ You think, that’s very nice. There is another side, I think, we are all much the same and this is what I write about. Women are women. men are men and they singularly fail or - sometimes - they singularly succeed in understanding each other. It seems to be that whichever culture you come from, sooner or later, the same basic human problems arrive. I always think I’m the Births, Marriages, Deaths column of playwriting. I tend to write about what happens when people go home in the evening and I guess that people get home in the evening all over the world.

The Stephen Joseph Theatre has made a great difference in Scarborough, I think, particularly to the young community. We have a very strong youth theatre and a super education dept - this fortnight the theatre is filled with young people. It’s often got that and I think we’re a very good centre for that. Once a theatre puts its roots down in a place, it begins to reach all aspects of the community. We do weddings in the theatre for instance, which is quite extraordinary, we do conferences all the time. The object being that we want to demystify the idea that theatre is a place only a few people go and certainly very few people understand. We want to say, ‘look it’s for you folks, its entertainment, its fun’ and make the plays address issues they are concerned about. The roar of recognition is what I call it - when people go, ‘oh right, I’ver been there. I know her, I know him.’ Then I know we’re on the right track.

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