Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This article about If I Were You was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5 in 2018.

Preface to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5 (extract)

If I Were You was an idea which had been in my creative bottom drawer for some time. Indeed I had previously made attempts to start it and given up. Like all simple ideas, it proved the very devil to write. The simple idea? What if a husband and wife, Mal and Jill, dissatisfied with their existing stereotypical gender roles, were to wake up one morning and discover they had exchanged bodies? To all outward appearance they looked unchanged, their family perceived them to be the same people they were before. Only their inner selves, their egos, their spirits had changed, both finding themselves inhabiting a different alien shell, an unfamiliar external carcass, how would they cope? Both perceiving the world through the eyes of the other. And more interestingly both being perceived as the other.

Dramatically, dealing with the question of explaining how this state of affairs came about, I chose a course I had taken previously in earlier plays with inexplicable scientific phenomena (two women waking up in hospital with each other’s head -
Body Language; mysterious portals in hotel rooms that induce time travel - Communicating Doors, and others) by ignoring what caused it altogether, leaving it to conjecture. The alternative of attempting to explain the impossible leading to endless pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, really doesn’t appeal to me at all. My experience with children’s plays is they either accept that the prince has suddenly become invisible or they don’t.

Years ago, as a young director, I once made suggestions to clarify an old and wise Irish dramatist’s play which I felt needed explaining. He looked at me reproachfully and shook his head. “Now, Alan, please don’t start getting logical.”

If the switch was going to take place, I felt it was important to make the two central characters positively ‘male’ and ‘female’. Mal, the husband, decidedly alpha male and Jill - whatever the female equivalent is to that (Omega female?)

Once the basic characters and situation were established, the unexplained exchange happens at the half way point. Any doubters in the audience would have the interval at least to swallow their disbelief with a drink. In the first act we largely see the two of them as they were. In the second act we see them coping, post change, as they have become.

Needless to say, the acting challenge the roles present an actor and actress truthfully and convincingly to play each other without hint of caricature is considerable. On that, the play rises or falls. And here, though, as with most of the best things in the theatre, it was also a lot of fun to rehearse, as you can imagine.

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