Alan Ayckbourn: Such A Hard Way To Make Us Believe In Make-Believe (1963)This interview is believed to be the first published interview conducted with Alan Ayckbourn. It is certainly the oldest recorded interview with Alan Ayckbourn known to exist and held in archive. The interview was published on 20 November 1963 in The Times, the week after the world premiere of his sixth play Mr Whatnot at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, where Alan was employed as an actor, writer and director.
Unless you have seen a performance by the talented and youthful cast at the Victoria Theatre, Hartshill, you might find it difficult to visualise a car chase, a tennis match, a garden fete and a battle ground portrayed in a space about the size of a boxing ring, Yet the players manage to depict all those things in their performance this week Mr. Whatnot.
One of the main difficulties in having a Theatre in the Round - and this is believed to be the only one in the country - is that no scenery can be used to help to capture the atmosphere and few props can be displayed.
It is entirely up to the cast to make their scenes realistic, to capture the imagination of an audience and direct it into a make-believe situation or setting.
At one of the rehearsals last week the 24-years-old author told me that one of the problems was not only to convince the audience but also to convince himself and the cast after continually practising scene after scene.
“You get to the stage when it’s sometime difficult to convince yourself that the plot is, in fact, going to get over to the audience. The reactions of the cast at early rehearsals often give a guide to the ultimate degree of success of a play but even they find themselves becoming more and more unconvinced as the weeks go by,” he said.
"Fortunately," he added, “when the play is performed before an audience everything turns out all right.”
Certainly the audience will be kept alive and amused by this week’s offering. Alan, whose brand of humour is mainly of the visual, almost slap-stick. variety, uses actions rather than words to describe incident.
Like many of the cast at the Vic, Alan is a versatile theatrical “jack of all trades.” They have to cope minimum of staff.
“We are all actors or actresses but also able to turn our hand at other work in the theatre,” Alan told me, pointing out Carolyne Smith who was drinking coffee with us in the theatre kitchen.
“As well as acting in the play Carolyne is also the stage director,” he said.
Alan claims that the Victoria Theatre is one of the finest training grounds in the country. “For me personally it gives a chance to write plays, act in them and also produce them. And all the other members of the cast can try their hand at the various other technical responsibilities whlch go with presenting plays in the theatre.”
Alan has written six plays and one of them Standing Room Only - a traffic jam comedy presented at the Vic earlier this year - has been bought by ABC Television who are to present it in their Armchair Theatre series, “I don’t make a lot of money writing plays: in fact this one is the first I have sold,” Alan said, “But `I enjoy it and being an actor it helps me to understand playwriting from an actor’s point of view.”
Basically Mr Whatnot is about the adventures of a young piano tuner who is called to the grand at a large stately home and falls in love with the daughter.
Needless to say there is no piano on the stage and Peter King as the tuner, gives an amusing portrayal at the invisible keyboard - and leaves the rest to the sound effects department.
In this six-character story much of the fun making is left to action and gesture rather than dialogue. Alan has broken away from traditional comedy and farce and produced the type off humour which can be appreciated by all, once they have become accustomed co the settings and visual aid effects.
This article was written by John Cloves and published in The Times on 20 November 1963.
Copyright: The Times. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.