Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This article about A Small Family Business was written by Alan Ayckbourn for an unrecorded production.

A Small Family Business

In 1987, at the request of Sir Peter Hall, I took a two year leave from the tiny in-the-round theatre which I direct in Scarborough…. I was invited to form my own acting group, one amongst several, that operated at that time under the overall title of the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Peter’s brief to me had been fairly general: an acting company of around 20, three productions, one in each of the NT’s auditoria with the proviso that one of these should be a new play of my own….

A Small Family Business was the result. It has been described as my “state of the nation” play. I suppose there’s a certain truth in that, though I would hate to think that it could be interpreted as a political piece. Social yes, political no. Politics and politicians are after all, in a democracy, merely the symptoms of that society’s current disease. They neither cause it and rarely can they cure it. The sickness in this instance seems to me to be an insidious erosion of any agreed moral code of behaviour. When is it right to steal? Is it ever permissible to kill another human being? Are there special circumstances where certain criminal acts become permissible? A lot of people seem to be asking these questions with increasing frequency, coming up with dangerous answers.

No play can hope to answer such fundamental questions. What it does is point out, I hope, that the slope from permissible to the unacceptable is a slippery one. The human mind left to its own devices can usually justify any code of behaviour it chooses to suit circumstances. Beware!

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