Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes about Joking Apart were written by Alan Ayckbourn in 2013 in response to an enquiry about the character of Hugh.

Notes On Hugh

During Act II, the guests gradually tear Richard and Anthea to shreds - which needs to develop more gradually, sporadically and remorselessly. It's like people placing feathers, one by one, on top of an eggshell, each individually harmless and lightweight, but gradually their combined weight threatens to crack it open. Hugh’s solitary small voice of dissent becomes steadily feebler as his loyalty gets increasingly put to the test. But then this is symptomatic of Hugh’s entire inner state as his doubts about everything he once held dear, his faith, his marriage, his child, life itself all start to be put to question. 
People such as Hugh smile because instinctively they feel they owe it to the world to make it a happier or at least a slightly less miserable place. They believe that’s the way to achieve it through the miraculous power of human love.

I think it’s OK for the audience to find him slightly amusing at the start. I have a habit of inviting the spectator to judge the book by its cover, to jump to premature conclusions, to mildly patronise a character or to even find them faintly amusing. But then as that character starts to unravel emotionally, revealing their vulnerability, people tend to feel rather guilty. My regular audience has grown slightly wary of me over the years! 
Hugh’s final speech to Debbie, too (by which time nearly all the poor chap’s wheels have fallen off), should be awkward. It's one of those appalling socially embarrassing moments when everyone waits, torn between allowing the poor man to complete his interminable meandering homily (like one of his sermons, of course) whilst resisting the urge to leap in and finish it for him. Akin to standing in a room when a relative with an appalling speech impediment suddenly leaps up to make a spontaneous and terribly well meaning speech. Oh, God! Why are they doing it? We all know why they’re doing it but why are they doing it?
It’s my contribution to what I termed at that period in my writing, Theatre of Embarrassment - my modest answer to Peter Brook’s Theatre of Cruelty!

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