Ayckbourn Talks: Meridian (1996)

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn and the critic Robin Thornber was broadcast on BBC World Service's Meridian on 6 December 1996. Within it, he briefly discusses his play The Champion Of Paribanou.

Alan Ayckbourn
"You can write at an adult level, at worst, with a sort of series of double entendres and sort of innuendoes which adults pick up and laugh at, but which leave the kids completely baffled - which I thInk is both unfair and in the end unsatisfying. Or you write the other way, you write children type jokes and things which the kids will rock around with but the adults will go, ‘oh dear, I hope this isn’t going to go on for too much longer.’

"In the middle of it - again I’ve fallen back on the old trusted device that theatre always needs - is narrative. Grab a strong plot which, whether you’re five years old or fifty-five years old, you think, ‘I want to know what happens to these two, I want to know what happens to her or him. That I think is the secret of writing plays for children and adults."

Robin Thornber
"I was knocked out by The Champion Of Paribanou; there were 400 school children in the auditorium who were absolutely spellbound. It’s really good to see an audience of very young children whose attention is held throughout for a good two hours - it was great.

"It’s a sort of
Arabian Nights fantasy setting and follows that Persian story - the plot is almost like a Persian carpet in its intricacies and its patterns. iIs absolutely fascinating, its very, very fast paced and I think that’s what held the kids - things are developing all the time.

"It’s a bit like a computer game in a sense in that you start off in one country and then after the interval, it moves on to a different level, so to speak. In the first half we have the Sultan’s palace and their politics with the childhood girlfriend first of all becoming assertive - and you think she’s going to be the heroine and the role model - but she gradually becomes corrupted by power and takes over the palace as a complete tyrant. And in the second half her prince has discovered a new girlfriend, this is the lady Paribanou, and she emboldens him to take on his former sweetheart. Because of all that complexity, you are emotionally turned round and turned over a couple of times in the course of the action. It’s fascinating.

"It is a play though recognisably by Alan Ayckbourn. The central character, the young prince is very much the Ayckbourn character - the diffident little guy who’s a bit nervous about the world and needs encouraging to assert himself.

"I think writing for children probably is feeding back into Alan’s writing for adults. I think there’s a degree of clarity as well as the pace in the storytelling here which will certainly feed back into the adult plays and the emotional and moral complexities are not the sort of writing that you usually get for children, but you do find in Ayckbourn’s adult plays as well: the moral ambivalences - you’re never quite sure which are the goodies and which are the baddies."

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