How The Other Half Loves: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
How The Other Half Loves (Library Theatre, Scarborough, 1969 production programme note)
This is my sixth play* to see its first light of day in Scarborough and, like the others, it's a comedy. I suppose it's inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between this and Relatively Speaking. In fact, it's an exploration of the same sort of theme but with a few decided differences. I've attempted, both in writing and production, to dispense with a conventional composite double setting and superimpose the rooms one upon the other. Thus there are moments when you will see two families existing in the same physical area, living out their lives, one unaware of the other. I've also fiddled about with the time sequence, in one scene, when it's Thursday for one couple and Friday for the other. Anyway, all this should be perfectly clear - if it isn't blame the director and not the author.
*It was actually the playwright's seventh play to premiere in Scarborough.
How The Other Half Loves (Windsor Theatre Royal 1973 production programme note)
"Why?" asked a certain lady in the audience when How the Other Half Loves was on its pre-London tour, "why are they all acting in the same room when it's obviously supposed to be two totally different rooms?" Her companion's answer was succinct and knowledgeable. "They're economising on the scenery, dear," she replied.
Actually, the piece started, like all my others, in a tiny theatre in Scarborough, in a public library where we present new plays to entertain often very wet holidaymakers. It's an in-the-round theatre, so we were able to economise still further by having no scenery at all.
I wrote it, as usual, at the last minute - it was already announced and several seats had been sold and, rather than be sued for misrepresentation or whatever, I closeted myself for several days and nights and hammered away.
Subsequently, of course, it went through a refining process with productions at Leicester at the Phoenix, and then at the Lyric in London.
It's had three different endings and several beginnings and I won't say that the middle hasn't been altered from time to time. For several performances early on I was actually forced, through illness in the cast, to take over the part of Frank. I distinguished myself, not only by having to carry a script (I can never learn my own lines), but by actually losing several pages during the action and having to ad-lib a scene. My fellow actors, confronted by the sight of this actor-director-author in full flow, spouting fresh dialogue, stood uncertainly about convinced that these must be new re-writes about which they hadn't been told. I later rushed off, jotted it down, and it's in there somewhere to this day.
As to the play itself; well, there are standard questions that every profession get asked. Actors are sometimes demanded to reveal what they do in the daytime when they're not working. Airline pilots, presumably, whether they ever get giddy looking out of their windows. Playwrights get asked where they get their ideas from. The answer to this is, I don't know but if I did I'd go there more often but I certainly wouldn't tell anyone else where it was. A little about How the Other Half Loves can be revealed, though, as I happen to remember quite clearly. It came about when I was living in one of those soulless blocks of flats, identical boxes piled one on top of the other. One or two friends lived in similar segments of this concrete honeycomb and from time to time we visited one another. It became, I found, increasingly difficult purely because of the same-ness of the rooms and consequently identical furnishing arrangements, to remember whether you were in their house or your own. Particularly late at night, with the lights dimmed, mellowed with food and drink, you could have witnessed assorted couples, looking clandestinely at their watches, wishing the others would go home so they could go to bed. Each day, each of us, occupied more or less identical areas, trod the same well worn paths from kitchen to dining table, table to chair, chair to bed. It was a small step mentally, to superimpose one flat on another, emphasise the differences in the couples as they wove in and out of each other, pursuing their separate pleasures and traumas.
Anyway, all that apart, when we first rehearsed this play, we found, in amongst our apprehension, that it was enjoyable to do. I hope it remains so. It's always seemed to me that if I can write something in which the actors can find enjoyment, there's always a chance that audiences will be encouraged to do the same.
Robert Morley was once asked by a reporter when we first opened in Leeds, what the play was about. "I haven't the faintest idea, old chap," he boomed. And then, with a broad smile "but it's enormous fun doing it, all the same."
How The Other Half Loves (unrecorded production programme note)
I’ve always been interested in Time. Stage Time that is. How a writer is able - and often does - bend time to suit his story-telling. ‘Heavens,’ cries some character, ‘I’ve been here over an hour and nobody’s even offered me a drink.’ In reality, of course, while it’s an hour for the character, for the audience it’s been only 15 minutes. It’s a device used one way or another in practically every play that’s ever been written. In How The Other Half Loves, I’ve explored this a little more than is normal.
Similarly with space. Stage Space that is. The same area of stage can be used to denote, say, a forest or a sitting room or a mineshaft – often with very little setting, particularly on the open stages that I normally use. Again, How The Other Half Loves plays around quite considerably with space. In fact, playing describes the whole piece rather exactly. The play’s a game really which I hope an audience enjoys playing as much as the actors enjoy playing it.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.