Joking Apart (2002)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for his own revival of Joking Apart at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2002.
“Why don’t you,” a woman once enquired of me angrily, “ever write a play about a happy couple?”
I thought about this for a month or so. Why didn’t I? Happy couple are a joy to behold. They make life worth living for those of us around them. It is the warming sunlight of their happiness which illuminates the dark corners of our lives. They lift our spirits with their love song. They lighten our hearts with their secret smiles and tender whispers. They are also, it has to be said, in dramatic terms very irritating and not a little boring.
Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that Shakespeare never cared to detail a single happy marriage in his entire play cycle. (The nearest, I think, are the Macbeths and even that relationship was somewhat cut off in its prime). No, happy smiling couples gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes are not good dramatic fodder. Drama, after all, thrives on conflict. It delights in flying plates, slamming doors, raised voices and even the occasional dose of poison. An audience is generally happier leaving a theatre declaring “Well, I thought our marriage was in trouble, but….”
Yet the notion of writing about an ideal, balanced happy couple continued to tease me. Surely it was not impossible to portray mutual bliss, inside or even outside of marriage? Without driving one’s audience screaming from the theatre? To create this beautiful couple with a loving, thriving relationship, perfect happy balanced children, a wonderful home, a big wild garden, a successful business, both of them generous hosts, supportive friends, superb cooks, the type of people who can find a plumber at short notice… You see, I can sense you’re already becoming restless.
Inevitably it was, of course, the people surrounding this golden couple who finally dictated the core of the play. For golden couples, dramatically at least, are more often than not catalysts who serve to illuminate others; their business partners, their neighbours, those people who wait in vain for a plumber, the friends who become entwined in them, competitively, enviously, amorously…. Fatally. The rest of us, really.
All the World loves a lover? I somehow doubt it.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.