Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This article about Damsels In Distress was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the Pitlochry Festival Theatre revival in 2016.

Damsels In Distress

I've always been a director. I used to run, until very recently, the Stephen Joseph Theatre. I was the Artistic Director there for 40 years. There has always been a tradition of a company theatre there, as my plays will suggest.

They are all company plays really, right from the very early ones. They weren't obvious star vehicles, though the idea of the
Damsels trilogy wasn't that unusual. I chose seven actors who were cast in two plays, initially FlatSpin and GamePlan, and then because we were having such a good time and I was in a crazy mood at the time, I suggested I write a third one. They all looked a bit askance: so I said "Well, your contracts run until the end of the year, you can squeeze in a third one."

It was interesting, seven actors playing twenty one roles and the only thing in common in the plays is the set itself, because I set them in a London riverside apartment, based on somewhere I used to live on the Thames, so we were used to the riverboats going backwards and forwards and the party boats and the tidal river coming up and down. So it's another character, the river.

But a different set of characters inhabit it in all three plays. The characters are not connected in any way. I'm fond of trilogies, ever since
The Norman Conquests, which is the same set of characters set in three different locations - this is like mirror imaging it - different characters in the same location, so that was the idea. I know audiences love to see actors performing differently and l know Pitlochry works on that situation too, in that you can, if you see a lot of plays over a season, see actors you rather like coming back as totally different characters, playing villains and heroes and singing and dancing and all sorts of different things, so I think that's one of the magic elements of theatre.

All three plays have a darkness to them: my writing has progressively, over the years, got darker. At the time I was writing this, 16 years ago in 2000, it was certainly into the dark side, but I hope I have clung on to the comedy of the stage - all three plays are quite funny as well, quite darkly funny.

My feeling is that if you write comedies, they're a bit like Chinese meals, really. If you get out of a theatre having purely laughed for two hours, you may well have had a really good time, but by the time you are half way home in your car, you suddenly get a bit hungry again for something more serious. So I'd love to leave the audience in all these cases with a little bit of weight, and it's just getting the balance between the weight, the substance and the fun of the performance.

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