How The Other Half Loves: Interview

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn about How The Other Half Loves is held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York. It was written circa 1989 but no other details are held.

How The Other Half Loves

What inspired you to write How the Other Half Loves?
Alan Ayckbourn:
It's always difficult to recall the precise motives for writing a particular play, especially one written nearly 20 years ago! I was working then, as now, at this small theatre in the round in Scarborough and I was particularly fascinated by the uses of distortion of time and space; especially the comic potentialities. I was also keen to write a play with highlighted different and contrasting social lifestyles. But mainly it seemed like a great deal of fun...

This is a very complicated play or should I say plot. When you write a play, do you first of all think up a plot, characters, or a theme?
It varies. In very general terms it could be said that early in my career, I was very conscious as a 'trainee' playwright that my story lines should be as strong as possible. Therefore I worked hard to generate a constantly moving, often devious plot. This is certainly true of How The Other Half Loves. Recently with my later work, I am usually sparked off by character or a theme. Though I make damn sure I have a plot as well, before proceeding any further.

You direct your plays. During rehearsals do you-ever alter the lines because of suggestions made by the actors?
Never. Actors are notorious rewriters if they sense an opportunity to do so. They start by changing one word or a comma and, before you know it, inside a week you might as well throw away the prompt script for all the relevance it has. It gives them a wonderful opportunity not to learn the lines. Thus only very, very, very occasionally.

You said you liked Noël Coward. And Coward as an author once said that the most vital point when writing a play is the construction, so he never started writing until the final scene crystallised in his mind. Do you do anything similar to that?
Yes. We both, from all accounts have written our plays very fast i.e over days rather than weeks. Once the whole thing appears to be there, off I go. I say "appears" as, quite often, once I get underway the thing changes radically despite all the best laid plans.

Your plays always have a plot. Is there some very special intent behind it? By that I mean there seems to have been a theatrical tendency to disregard plots so very often.
I have always believed that one of the principle duties and indeed delights of stage playwriting has been the business of live storytelling to a live audience. Accepting that we are limited creatures and that there's not an awful lot that's new to say about us that hasn't already been said, it seems doubly important that we find intriguing and entertaining ways of repeating time honoured truths.

Do you think any dramatist has had any influence on you in any way?
The list is endless. Everything I have ever seen has had some influence. Which may sound like ducking the question, but the list is vast and not restricted to merely dramatists. Chekhov, of course. And Pinter and Priestley and Coward and Rattigan and Giles Cooper. And Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. And René Clair. A lot of films.

When you directed How the Other Half Loves, what was the most important point you drew the actor's attention to?
I honestly cannot remember. Probably to make the characters consistent and real and to make each situation matter desperately. The more improbable the situation became the more desperately it should matter. That's what I hope I told them.

Which couple in the play was closest to your heart?
I couldn't really say. I seldom write any character for which I haven't some affection.

When you wrote this play, or others, were you in any way particularising the characteristics of a certain class of people or even underlining a class distinction?
Of course. How The Other Half Loves is a fair cross section of the English middle class. The Fosters, sort of upper middle; the Featherstones, lower middle; and the Phillips pretending to be classless but belonging somewhere in the middle middle. Besides the class distinction there's the age distinction as well, between the Fosters and the others.

Do you like writing?
No.

Do you have any ambition to write a serious play?
All my plays are serious. Comedy is a very serious business for everyone except the audience.

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