Relatively Speaking: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"I wrote this play for Scarborough, for people who had had their holidays spoilt by rain."
(Financial Times, 8 July 1971)

"[Stephen Joseph] was preparing the advance publicity and he needed a title. I said
Meet My Mother; he changed Mother to Father, and I'm still very proud because I got the line in near the end of the play.... I avoided Stephen for a week because I thought he wouldn't like it, then one day he just said 'You've written a very funny play.'"
(Financial Times, 8 July 1971)

"I can see now that
Relatively Speaking was a fairly deliberately devised play. When I was writing it, Stephen Joseph said (and it's a good tip that I always try to pass on) that there's absolutely no harm whatsoever, whatever you think of the state of the theatre and playwriting in general, to try and write one 'well-made' play; that is, a play that, in general terms, is fairly actor-proof, well-constructed and which works. If you want to break the rules of theatre, he said, it's very useful to know what the rules are. Breaking them by accident can lead to all sorts of trouble later. Relatively Speaking is a little machine of a play. Character plays a fairly secondary role in it - everybody's too busy trying to find out what's going on and 'character' doesn't have a chance."
(Plays And Players, September 1975)

"Stephen [Joseph] asked me simply for a play which would make people laugh when their seaside holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came into the theatre to get dry before trudging back to their land-ladies. This seemed as worthwhile a reason for writing a play as any so I tried to comply."
(Modern Dramatists: Alan Ayckbourn, 1983)

"I regard
Relatively Speaking as a comedy. The plot is devious but doesn't really fulfil those desperate and anarchical requirements that would qualify it as a farce."
(Personal correspondence, 16 January 1986)

"The characters are not aware of their situation - or at least never for more than a few seconds at a time. Greg never knows what's going on; Philip does for a few minutes when he discovers Ginny's lie about her being his daughter but by the end of the play he's as baffled as ever; Ginny starts the ball rolling with the initial lie but, as soon as she finds Greg at The Willows, rapidly loses her grip on the situation; the irony of the play is that, at the end, it is Sheila who, ignorant of everything up to that point, suddenly realises the whole situation. Not only that, but for the first time she introduces with the last line of the play a plot element of her own invention. Thus the tables are turned entirely."
(Personal correspondence, 16 January 1986)

"I tried to write a well-made play (I don't really know if I did) with
Relatively Speaking which was one of my early successes. I was at that time a very anarchic, very young dramatist who was very determined, as any new writer, to make his mark. I wanted to be different from the establishment - the Rattigan or Coward generation of writers - and not to be seen as another one of those old-fashioned writers. And Stephen Joseph said to me, "Why don't you just try to write a play like them? To see if you can do it?" because, as he pointed out, it is much easier to break the rules once you know where they are and what they are.
"So I sat down and tried to write a play which, if you can believe it, would be actually actor-proof, and would indeed work under all sorts of circumstances. Some plays need very delicate direction; I would suggest certain Chekhov plays could be disastrous if they're done by some actors. There are other plays which somehow get by on the plot.
Relatively Speaking is, in other words, a strongly plotted play. And I found that because of having done that exercise in construction, which I'm rather glad I did, I've subsequently been able to explore variations on it - finding new ways to tell stories and new ways to use drama.
"I think the achievement of arriving at something original, having seen first what its base model is, what it is varying from, is very valuable. I've known writers who've written inspirational first plays, but who have been completely unaware of how they did it. They then spend the next ten years of their life attempting to find out in order to create another good, well-constructed play but without knowing any of the rules to guide them, it can be a big problem."
(Personal correspondence, 1988)

"[Stephen Joseph had cut] rather a lot of important bits [for the original production], because he didn't seem to mind where it was cut as long as it was cut. When he did this you would point that there were some important bits of information missing, but he'd just say: 'Don't worry, people. They'll follow it.' and they generally did. It was very good, and Peter Bridge came up with the director Nigel Patrick and they declared it was great."
(Paul Allen, Alan Ayckbourn: Grinning At The Edge)

"He [Stephen Joseph] asked me for a play which would make people laugh when their seaside summer holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came into the theatre to get dry. This seemed to me as worthwhile a reason for writing a play as any, so I tried to comply. I hope I have succeeded. The devious plot was the result of sheer frenzy and the dialogue of tearing haste. In just over a week the play was written, aided by my wife's blue pencil, her constant suggestions and her cups of coffee."
(Hull Daily Mail, 17 July 2007)

"[The producer] Peter Bridge said "that title’s very vulgar and seaside, darling, really not suitable for the West End." So we went round and round and round until we came across a Noël Coward title that he hadn’t written!"
(Tea For Two with Alan Ayckbourn and Richard Derrington, Stephen Joseph Theatre, 24 July 2008)

"The launch of my play
Relatively Speaking in 1967 in London's West End, when I was still under 30 [was my big break]. It came a the right time: it was a French window play at a period when most plays were set around kitchen sinks. I think the critics breathed a collective sigh of relief: instead of dirty dishes and angry northerners they had shiny southerners having breakfast in the sunshine."
(The Guardian, 5 October 2010)

"There were so many great one-off voices around: Pinter, Wesker, Osborne, and by then I'd already tried to write a Pinter play, and tried something experimental with Mr Whatnot. I was getting tired of having to shout so loudly to be heard. Stephen [Joseph] said he knew I wanted to create a distinctive new voice, but why didn't I try to write a well-made play. And when I'd learned what the rules were, I could start breaking them."
(The Guardian, 29 March 2014)

"[Relatively Speaking] turned out to be my pension. It's a safe vehicle that has survived and is always on somewhere. And that provided the launch pad for How the Other Half Loves, again in one sense a fairly well‑plotted play, but using unusual theatre techniques in superimposing two rooms on top of each other, a pure in-the-round conceit."
(The Guardian, 29 March 2014)

"I wrote a play called
Meet My Father and I thought it was dreadful, but Stephen Joseph thought it was interesting and put it on. I didn't even go to the first night but I saw it later and thought it was better. The same producer who had done my first West End play [Mr Whatnot] came back and said he wanted to take this play to London but I had to change the awful title."
(Down Your Way, November 2014)

“Plays like
Relatively Speaking are continually knotting and unknotting. There’s never a moment when somebody isn’t discovering or about to discover something.”
(Personal correspondence)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn.

The Relatively Speaking section of Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website is sponsored by Michael T. Mooney