A Small Family Business (1995)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 1.
A Small Family Business, written in 1986, was unusual in that it was the first play for over twenty years which I had to submit and await someone else's verdict as to whether it merited production.
Sir Peter Hall, who had introduced me to the National Theatre in 1977 with Bedroom Farce, had been an occasional producer of my plays on the South Bank ever since. In 1985, Peter asked me if I'd like to take a break from Scarborough and come and run my own company at the National. My brief was to direct three plays over a two-year period, one in the conventional proscenium-arched Lyttelton, another in the large open-staged Olivier and a third on the smaller-scale, flexible Cottesloe stage. The only condition was that the one in the Olivier must be a new one of my own. I would have choice of the other two plays and be able to handpick my own acting company of twenty. The prospect of playing with such large toys proved irresistible.
I knew the Olivier of old. Not the friendliest of spaces for those purveyors of modern low-key naturalistic drama. 'For love scenes you stand six feet apart and shout at each other,' Michael Bryant, that most experienced of Olivier performers once advised me. 'All other scenes you stand twenty feet apart and yell.'
In the end, the solution I came up with was a variation of the one I first used with my first play in the Lyttelton, Bedroom Farce. Namely, if you can't find anything big enough to fill the space, then divide the space. With A Small Family Business I found the perfect excuse to put on stage something that had always been till then beyond my wildest budget, namely a two-storey house complete with working kitchen and bathroom. The biggest dolls' house in the world. Peter described the piece as a modern morality play. He said it reminded him of Ben Jonson. I later read some Ben Jonson but I must confess I didn't understand much of it. Still, I was very flattered.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.