Alan Ayckbourn on Farce (1995)

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn as a result of a request from the playwright Brian Rix for Alan to offer his thoughts on farce for the book Life In The Farce Lane. It offers a glimpse into how Alan's plays have been perceived and his thoughts on the challenges of writing farces.

When I started writing I had no idea what to call my plays - though I suspect they were farces. Or embryo ones. How can anyone of nineteen write a farce? Anyway, when my first play (Relatively Speaking) was bought by Peter Bridge for the West End he advised me to call it a Comedy as that sounded 'classier'. Being still green and innocent, I complied. Later on, certain critics with nothing better to do began to doubt whether the plays were Comedies at all but maybe they were Farces. This became very boring so I called my next play 'a Farce' in the vain hope of shutting them up. One of them then wrote a very long piece saying that my play certainly wasn't a Farce it was indeed a Comedy and how dare I?
These days I don't call my plays anything at all. That way I am free to claim, should the audience laugh uproariously, that of course it was a farce. Should they smile pleasantly that it was, obviously, a light comedy all along. And in the event of glum silence that it was a serious social documentary reflecting the times we live in. I think it's known as hedging your bets.
There are two things (I've just remembered) about farce. One: there's no such thing as an 'interesting' one - unlike so-called straight plays. Farce is either good or bad. And the fact is that everyone knows which is which. The good ones you laugh at, the bad ones you leave.
And two: because its job is to persuade people not just to suspend their disbelief but often their entire logical centre, farce requires the most consummate of artists - writers, actors, directors - everyone - technicians, designers, stage-managers. Yet because the aim of farce is merely (merely!) to create laughter it is the most misunderstood and often the most underrated form of theatre there is. Often overlooked by scholars and the so-called theatrical establishment - if not the public, thank God.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.