Henceforward… (1995)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5.
While I was waiting a year to direct that [A Small Family Business at the National Theatre] (the National always need things so far in advance) I wrote Henceforward.... This combined two or three of my interests at the time. It's a play about the creative process: always difficult to portray on stage and rarely that convincing. Actors sitting pretending to be novelists, scratching away fiercely with quill pens whilst declaiming their prose aloud at twice the speed they are supposedly writing - Wuthering Heights in five days. It never makes good theatre. Nor do classical composers humming or painters holding up one thumb and squinting, and as for poets ... But a modern composer, that was a different matter, especially one who worked entirely electronically with pre-sampled and generated sound. The result there could be, with only the smallest dramatic licence, quite immediate.
Henceforward... is on the surface a comedy but it does present a gloomy prediction of a possible future world where society, maybe as a direct result of the behaviour portrayed in A Small Family Business, has all but collapsed. And I suppose any play in which the hero allows his wife and daughter to die whilst he finishes writing his latest composition can't be considered all funny. (I wonder where I got this reputation for being a comic dramatist.)
Jerome, the composer, was based on someone whom I met briefly one Christmas: an art historian who chose to live, or rather to remain living, in one of the bleaker of our Northern inner-city no-go zones. Alone on the top floor of his vandalised and abandoned tower block he sat writing, surrounded by the sounds, the images and the beauty of Renaissance music and art. 'Why do you stay there?' I asked him. His answer was quite chilling. 'I feel', he said, 'that if I go, then the light might finally go out completely.' The idea that each of us has a duty to provide illumination, as it were, in order that others might see more clearly is an image that has remained with me.
Henceforward... also provided me with the opportunity to indulge my love of robots. In particular the British (sorry-about-that-mate-we're-still-waiting-for-the-part) sort of robot: totally eccentric, idiosyncratic, unserviceable and unreliable.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.