Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This article about Private Fears in Public Places was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 3 in 2005.

Preface to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 3 (extract)

Private Fears in Public Places was a title I'd had in reserve for several years but never got round to using. Nevertheless, like a composer with a good tune, I stored it away for later use.

It's an unusually structured play, constructed in fifty-four short scenes, which is unheard of for me. Indeed, I am generally critical of writers who adopt this so-called celluloid approach to stage-play construction. It suggests a laziness, a failure to create a proper dramatic concentration of stage movement which, ideally, should present an uninterrupted narrative flow. In theatre, using this multiple short-scene technique, a sort of dramatic indigestion can easily set in, making for a series of irritating scenic hiccups. In this case, with each of the fifty-four scene changes lasting, say, thirty seconds, an audience could face a prospect of sitting for twenty-seven minutes in the dark whilst people dressed in black furtively shifted furniture.

Yet, given the nature of my story, or rather stories, this multi-scene structure was precisely the one I needed to use. To compensate, therefore, it was vital that the set was a permanent one, containing within it the multiple fixed locations. That each scene would glide seamlessly into the next, following the fragments of the characters' lives as they collided with each other like so much solar debris adrift in space. On this occasion, composition not only reflected the requirements of the narrative but also echoed the central theme of the play itself. That our lives are linked more closely than we realise. That the actions of individuals, however involuntary they may be, will often create ripples which turn into waves and finally rock some stranger's craft moored miles away on some distant shore.

It's such a new play that, at the time of writing, I can say little more about it. I think, I suspect, it explores new ground for me, in theme, character and structure. But in drama, it is of course a mistake to believe one has ever written anything truly original. In the main, it's about the re-telling of old stories, some of them often familiar. But as the old comic once remarked, it's all in the way you tell them, mate.

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