House & Garden: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"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."
(Yorkshire Post, 1 January 1999)
"It will be like putting on two parts of The Norman Conquests on the same night. I think the audiences should stay put, so they'll have to come on two nights to see the whole play."
(Birmingham Post, 27 February 1999)
"The idea is that the actors are playing a scene upstairs, a chaps says: 'I'm taking the dog for a walk,' and goes out through the door, and then a few seconds later he turns up in the other auditorium, saying: 'Come along, boy!'"
(Financial Times, 10 April 1999)
"Every 10 years I write a play that is slightly more than a play. I wrote this around the building, which has two auditoriums of slightly different sizes. I suppose it might be hard for the stage managers to organise. They will have to use stopwatches to make sure the actors don't overrun. But it should be enormous fun. And even it the audience has a rotten evening at least they can go home with a pot of jam.... It's a suicidal project. That's what I like about it."
(Sunday Telegraph, 11 April 1999)
"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."
(The Herald, 22 June 1999)
"I've become worried that theatre tends to get downgraded these days. Everybody talks about movies. The water can look a bit becalmed to the punters. So I thought let's do something that says, 'Oy, we're here. Let's do something different'.
"I got a fit stage manager to run up the stairs at the National and time the distance between the theatres. It was about one minute 28. The actors found it all a bit hard to get their heads round when I first told them. Actors are used to coming on stage and working an audience. But in this suddenly they are in a different theatre halfway-through with a new audience. And they might be a star in one play and a walk-on in the other. So concepts about acting and starring have to be rethought."
(The Independent, 5 May 2000)
"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.'....
"There was nearly a disaster on the very first preview. The man playing Teddy Platt set off from the main theatre, from House on the way to Garden, then had a mental block and found himself upstairs rather than down, with the audience beneath his feet. The stage manager of House was saying, 'Well, he left us OK but he seems to have vanished.' When the actor finally came spilling on set, red in the face, I thought, 'Where the hell has he been?'....
"The nightmare [when writing] was getting everyone on one set and finding you had no one left in the other play. There's no point doing it and then cheating, although we do have to make sure that the actors don't kill themselves....
"People might just think it's some great technical feat, rather than two fine plays. Populists are often denigrated by the critics. I don't mind what gets them [audiences] in, but I hope that when they're in, the play takes over. It's the usual mixture of mine - some good fun and some really quite sad and desolate figures. If there's an overall theme, it's that we're all walk-ons in other people's lives. For instance, a waiter is only one tiny part of our evening when we go out to a restaurant, but he's not when he goes back to his family and becomes the main man."
(Mail On Sunday, 16 July 2000)
"I wrote the plays simultaneously to mark my 60th birthday, and I honestly thought it was a bit of fun. I'm always looking for ways to make theatre live.
"This [House & Garden] is scheduled to run in rep with Hamlet [at the National Theatre], 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."
(Time Out, 25 July 2000)
"It takes a little getting your head around. When someone goes off in the Olivier they come on in the Lyttelton. As it takes about a minute and a half to get between the two, you've got to move fast. And you've got to be careful not to put two minutes on one scene and find you've missed your entrance in the other theatre. I always watch them with a knot in my stomach thinking, 'Are they going to make it?'....
"One of the major themes of the play is that we're all walk-on parts in other people's lives. So there are some characters in House that you barely see in Garden, and vice versa. For an actor who instinctively works an audience, builds a relationship with them and adjusts their performance accordingly, to be suddenly hurled into another theatre where there is no existing relationship is an extraordinary feeling....
"The National was probably the only place we could do it [after its premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre]. 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."
(What's On, 26 July 2000)
"I've not cheated - there is precious little time between one exit in one theatre and another entrance in the other sometimes. I've got little tricks [to synchronise the plays]. There are four scenes in each, and each ends at the same time, so at the end of them, one theatre can catch up if it has to. It may mean that Audience A have to sit a little longer for the second scene to start, but because they know what's happening they don't mind. Normally we're talking about a minute and a half rather than a minute. The most difficult thing is getting it down for the curtain call. Both shows have to come down within 10 seconds of each other, that's the maximum you can wait. The calls are staggered - three bow here, three there - it's a long one, an opera call almost!....
The order [an audience sees the plays] 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."
(Plays International, July 2000)
"The biggest challenge was to make them at least credible and convincing enough character-wise to be funny,"
(Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2000)
"The most important thing to me is that it's an incredibly live event. Theatre is constantly being questioned these days - people ask what its relevance is when we've got such good virtual reality machines. Essentially the thing that distinguishes it is that it's live....
"Garden is running slower [at that point in rehearsals] because its energy is different. People wander on and wander across the garden. It's a much bigger space, so you do genuinely feel you've walked into a garden. Whereas House is more compressed, so it is a completely different atmosphere....
"We're all walk-on players in other people's lives. I am always fascinated in the way we make judgements about people on what we see of them. If, for example, you see the predatory Gavin Ryng-Mayne in Garden, he seems really nice. But when you see him in House you think, 'God, what an appalling man.'"
(Financial Times, 5 August 2000)
"I said to the cast at the Stephen Joseph Theatre one day, 'Listen, this will never be done again because this is a special theatre with these two auditoria. Nobody else will be mad enough to do it and besides, it's crazy.' But it was fun and the audience thought it was fun. They loved it. They kept coming back. You had to come twice to see it all, anyway.
"On the very last day, Trevor Nunn, who was at the time running the National Theatre, came and saw the matinee of House and the evening show of Garden. At the end of Garden he came out into the foyer where all these games were going on, all the fun, and he was completely swept away by it, he loved it. And he let me do it at the National, which was lovely because I had the Lyttelton and the Olivier theatres to play with, which are huge compared with Scarborough. I had an audience every day of 2,000 people. We had a large garden fête in the foyer with much bigger resources. We had a band, and we had games, and it was great. We took the National Theatre over really for a month or so in the summer of 2000. And it was packed; it was a terrific success."
(Personal correspondence, 2003)
"I announced House & Garden completely randomly at a post-show discussion, and I suddenly caught sight of my Chairman's face with his mouth open, thinking, "This is the first I've heard of this!""
(Financial Times, 04 October 2008)
"It was my highest audience total [at the National Theatre]. There were about 1,100 in the Lyttelton and 1,400 or 1,500 on the Olivier. So I had two and a half thousand people watching [each performance].
(Taking Steps programme, Orange Tree Theatre 2010)
"We moved into this theatre, this new one. We had this space upstairs - a studio space, but I don't like to call them that. A one-hundred-eighty-seater. The idea occurred to me that I could write two plays using both spaces at once. So, I asked my stage manager how long it took to walk from upstairs to downstairs and she did it and said "thirty-seven seconds". I said, "Are you running?" and she said, "No, I'm just walking." And so I thought, "OK." So, I went off now that I got the idea and I sat down to write it. I started and I came up with the idea of one of the spaces would be the garden and one of the spaces would be the house. You would see through the window in the back of the set of the house to the garden. The actors would walk out and they are apparently going into the garden, but they were really running down the backstage stairs, but they would apparently arrive in the garden. But, then I thought, "Hang on!" If two plays are running at once there are variations in timing. Actors being actors, there will be variations in timings. It can't be set to thirty-eight seconds. So, I thought, ninety seconds. And that's what I did. So, we rehearsed them and with stage managers working very closely where the actors were in the other so they would know and get used to them running concurrently. In theatres where the spaces are considerably larger, the gap has to be expanded."
(Broadwayworld.com, 10 June 2010)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn