Relatively Speaking (1968)

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for a production of Relatively Speaking at Windsor Theatre Royal in 1968.

My only contact with the Theatre Royal until now was a rather embarrassing one. My mother-in-law, determined to see her daughter's newly acquired, un-employed actor husband established as a second Terence Rattigan, besieged John Counsell's office with 'phone calls, letters and visits insisting they presented a play of mine. Mr. Counsell politely but firmly declined the invitation. But all that was several years and six plays ago. The fact remains though, that when we heard that Relatively Speaking was to be presented here both mother-in-law and I glowed smug with contentment.
I thought it might be worth devoting these columns to describing exactly how a play comes to be written. In particular this play, since every single one is different, and the actual process of writing it down devious and mysterious. Some write in pencil; some directly on to typewriters; some at dawn some at midnight. Some wait for inspiration, some, like me, bash on with page one and hope they reach page ninety-five without confronting a major obstacle. Plays are sometimes written back to front with the first scene the last to be completed. This play, for the record, was written in pencil over several midnights, the second scene first and the first scene last and was completed in ten days flat. I remember I had a large woolly cat for company who didn't really belong to us but seemed to like basking in the heat generated by my creative processes. The creature rejoiced under the unlikely name of Pamela and sat unmoved as I tried out sections of newly written dialogue in her direction.
This was my seventh play to be produced for the stage and was written as a result of a 'phone-call from the late Stephen Joseph in October 1965. He asked if I could provide him with a play for his forthcoming summer season in Scarborough's theatre-in-the-round. The only conditions were that the cast should not exceed four in number and the budget for the production not more than ten pounds. Undaunted by these technical hazards (I once wrote a play for two entirely separate companies who never met up until the first rehearsal, it was disastrous) I immediately set to work in my usual manner and forgot the entire project.
A 'phone call the following February and a polite enquiry about the play's progress brought forth the usual cascade of unashamed lies about the unwritten work. I resolved to set to without delay.
In May the pre-publicity posters were due and Stephen by now sensing that a helping push was required suggested that he bill the play
Meet My Mother a new comedy by.... That night I sat up till 4 a.m. trying to think of a play which might possibly suit that title and finally decided it wasn't very inspiring. I 'phoned back the next morning and, on impulse rather than anything else, asked if the proof copy of the poster could be amended to read Meet My Father. It was bolder and had a good ring to it. By the middle of May, exactly a fortnight before rehearsals were due to start, one quiet midnight Pamela and I sat down to write. I remember little of this period, other than I have described, apart from calling the wife in the play by the same name as the woman who lived next door to us and then wondering vaguely if it was libellous. But I do know that whatever good qualities the piece has are almost entirely due to this pressure. The devious plot was the result of sheer frenzy and the dialogue, of tearing haste. In just over a week the play was written aided by my wife's blue pencil, her constant suggestions and her cups of coffee. It was posted to Stephen, who posted it to his manager, who posted it to the Duplicating Bureau and as far as I know the dear lady who typed it finally was the first person ever to read it through. By the following February the play having been re-christened Taken For Granted, Father's Day and finally Relatively Speaking was in rehearsal in London.
Which is not the way most plays are written thank heaven but is more or less the story of this one. Mind you, my latest play started life on the posters as
The Silver Collection as I hadn't begun work on it when the publicity was due. It was later presented as The Sparrow but I'm not really happy with that title either. Please send your suggestions on postcards only please to....

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