House & Garden: Interviews

This section contains interviews with Alan Ayckbourn relating to his plays House & Garden. Click on the link in the right-hand column below to go to the relevant interview.

Between 1999 and 2000, Alan Ayckbourn was involved with a significant number of interviews in reaction to both the world and London premiere of House & Garden. A selection of significant quotes from various interviews are reproduced below.

Interview Extracts

Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

Interview with Simon Murgatroyd (1999)
Provisionally entitled House & Garden, one part will be presented inn the main Round auditorium and the other in the upstairs McCarthy.
Alan Ayckbourn:
An actor will leave the McCarthy saying 'I'm just going for a walk in the garden', and will arrive in The Round two minutes later. I have an idea that I want to use where we see two sides of the same coin, but I've yet to work out all the details.
As it's my 60th birthday in 1999, I want to try to come up with something a bit unusual. I wrote
The Revengers’ Comedies for my 50th - that's two long plays lasting five hours. This is something slightly more digestible. It'll be fun. It will spread into the foyer as well, so there will be a totality about it. As soon as you enter the theatre, you will be involved.
(Lynda Murdin, Yorkshire Post by Lynda Murdin, 1 January 1999)

Alan Ayckbourn without the Stephen Joseph Theatre would be like Shakespeare without the Globe, a jobbing playwright waiting for the next commission. With it, he is an artist with a clear sense of purpose.
Alan Ayckbourn:
It's helped me enormously to be in control of my own environment. You write more plays more often if you know they're going to get done. You sense that even the most successful playwrights have to sit around for a year just waiting for an acknowledgement, and it gets a little depressing, which makes so many of them defect [to TV or film].
You write for theatre with something quite immediate in mind. This venture,
House & Garden, I would never have done on spec, it would have been ridiculous. Knowing that there are two theatres within 20 seconds' sprinting distance from each other meant that I could begin to devise the idea.
(Mark Fisher, The Herald, 22 June 1999)

The plays - House & Garden - stand alone, and can be seen in any order.
Alan Ayckbourn:
The order will obviously affect how you see them. House will take on a different slant if you see it after Garden, and vice versa. Some people will find one funnier if they see it first than if they see it second; as usual, there is a great tinge of sadness running through the plays, which you can avoid or be unaware of sometimes if you've only seen one. The subtext is not developed sufficiently until you've seen the other, and when you do, you go, 'Oh God, the poor man, I didn't realise how awful this is for him'. You are less likely to want to laugh at someone who you know is quite as unhappy as he turns out to be.
(Mark Shenton, Plays International, July 2000)

Ayckbourn says he wanted to do something special for his 60th birthday last year and two plays seemed more novel than one.
Alan Ayckbourn:
These days, theatre needs events. As someone who runs a theatre, I know that people get very complacent - you present a perfectly good bill of Shakespeare, or new plays, but people get used to that. I wanted people to say, 'Oh, something different's going on here.' It's dangerous to say that this sort of this has never been done before, because someone will always pop up and say, 'Excuse me, but in 1244 they did the Mystery plays in two cathedrals.'
(Simon Garfield, Mail On Sunday, 16 July 2000)

House & Garden arrive at a moment when Trevor Nunn's captaincy of the National Theatre is under repeated fire for being too frivolous. Ayckbourn is vigorous in his defence of 'Trevor'
Alan Ayckbourn:
Everyone has their own idea about what the National should do. In the end, audiences vote with their feet. And if you do Singin' in the Rain, they pack in. There's no point doing plays everyone approves of but no one wants to see. This is scheduled to run in rep with Hamlet, which is meaty stuff. This is the mayonnaise. I'm the mayonnaise man! I don't mind saying it. They're not my heaviest works, but I hope that there are observations about relationships and marriage in them too, as well as laughs. That said, if all this does is give two thousand people a really jolly evening, I'd be delighted.
(Dominic Cavendish, Time Out, 25 July 2000)

Not that the staging requirements of House & Garden offer great prospects for lucrative touring.
Alan Ayckbourn:
The National was probably the only place we could do it. It was a lunatic venture from the beginning and it looked at one stage as if we'd never get them done again, because we need two adjacent theatres with a common foyer where it all spills out at the end. And the good thing is that it links everybody in a very large building, including the front of house. I've been running around telling everyone they're all part of the show, and they're all up for it - which is great."
(Douglas McPherson, What's On, 26 July 2000)

After the performances, in the evenings, the company repair to the National's foyer, still in character, to man the stalls, the test-your-strength and human fruit machines at a 'real' village fête.
Alan Ayckbourn:
Even if people have had a rotten time, they can go home with a decent jam sponge.
(Heather Neill, Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2000)

Not only do the plays have slightly different rhythms, but every performance develops a momentum of its own. Yet nobody seems too perturbed; indeed, the actors seem to relish the challenge.
Alan Ayckbourn:
When I was an actor I couldn't stand being bored. Good actors like being put on their mettle. In these plays, it's extraordinary for them because an actor is used to courting an audience over an evening and building a relationship. But here you can walk out of one auditorium and into another with a completely alien audience.
(Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, 5 August 2000)

Was House & Garden difficult to move from Scarborough to the National Theatre?
Alan Ayckbourn:
It worked, it worked very well, two theatres plus the foyer. It was an event. Occasionally you need to do something slightly abnormal. There were problems in the National because it was much bigger, a minute and a half to play with! If one of the plays speeds up and one slows down by 45 seconds then they've missed their cue. The point in doing the plays was...I'm always interested in how you perceive people, I've coined the phrase 'we are all walk- on parts in other people's lives' and there is a lady in one scene of Garden and she is not very nice but then we see her as a central character in House and understand why she was unpleasant. Perspective and looking from different angles is very interesting.
(Clare Coulson, Durham 21, 2002)

What gave you the idea of constructing two plays running simultaneously with the same cast?
Alan Ayckbourn:
We had moved into our new Stephen Joseph Theatre here in Scarborough (in 1996). We had two auditoria and it seemed to me that it might be fun, as I approached my sixtieth birthday, to stage an 'event', something unusual. I believe that a regional theatre needs to include something out of the ordinary every so often. Just to remind everyone that the theatre's still there! On another level it interested me to explore how an audience related to a character when they only saw half the picture. i.e. how we often jump to snap conclusions about people when we meet them only briefly. If you see Garden first, for instance, you might be forgiven for thinking that Trish is tetchy and graceless. When you see House you realise that she has every reason to be. Interesting for the actors, too, to relate to two often quite different audiences in the same night. Most important is it's genuinely live theatre.
(Hampshire Chronicle, 2004)

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