Better Off Dead: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"Steve Freeman and Paul Robinson [the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Executive and Artistic Directors] have given me such impetus, I have even written next year's play as well! I hope the title's not prescient. This is a play about a writer, Algy, who lives in the wilds of North Yorkshire, who has shut himself off from the hurly-burly of publishing and London. He's proud to be a writer of detective fiction and his main character is called DCI Tommy Middlebrass, who is a rough, gritty detective, well past his sell-by-date. He's gritty and overweight but gets his results. He's got a green behind the ears sergeant with him, Gemma Price. Algy's very reluctant to seek publicity and has a love / hate relationship with the press. With great reluctance he grants an interview with a writer contemporary of his who claims to have been at school with him, although Algy can't remember a thing about him. When they meet in the garden of Algy's summer house, Gus arrives with a recording machine and is eager to get the rarely achieved interview with Algy the writer."
(A Brief History Of Plays event, 17 September 2017)

"Algy's a man in his late seventies: I can see people thinking, 'is it autobiographical?'! He's a writer, living in Yorkshire, and the reason I've made him a writer is that one of the themes of the play is, my plays are quite quick in execution, but I've always wondered what I'd be like at writing about a detective character who I'd used for a number of years and now I'm trying desperately to kill him off, but the readers want you to bring him back, and so by the next novel, he's back. I thought, 'how dangerous is it when the writer's alter ego, the character he's created, takes him over'."

(The Press, 13 September 2018)

Post Show Question And Answer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (20 September 2018)
"Algy is not a self-portrait and that’s the first thing to say. I was interested to write a play about a writer but who’s not a playwright. Over the years, when one’s writing characters, one gets very, very empathetic with them. You get a great deal of empathy for them and often it’s quite difficult to let one go and to hand it over to an actor. But then I’m always moving onto another second chapter so that’s not a problem for me. I just wondered what writers with a continuing set of characters feel about them - detective writers in particular seem to go on for 30 or 40 books, how did Agatha Christie feel about Hercules Poirot. They must have developed a sort of relationship in their mind with that character, which they so vividly created. Indeed there are examples of Dorothy L Sayers, for instance, and her detective Lord Peter Wimsey and this is a character she actually fell in love with and then wrote a character very close to her own in a number of books and teasingly had a relationship with Wimsey. She has a relationship with the characters that we, as playwrights, probably don’t."

"Gus Crewes was my revenge on journalism! I always think they look as though they’re dying to talk about themselves but they’re honour-bound to get some detail from you, so they just sit through it. I try to sound interesting and I try not to repeat myself but you know perfectly well that I’ve done so many damned interviews over 50 years now, that they must be able to get the whole lot off the internet and there can’t be an original question anywhere in the world."

"I just write for me really and as I get older, so do my characters occasionally - but I’m desperately trying to keep one or two young ones around! It’s a fascinating area for me to explore. In some of my early plays, I had some cranky old people but they were never written with any knowledge of what cranky old people were really like! Now I’m a cranky old person myself and I can empathise with the characters in the play, particularly Algy. Every time you wake up these days - at my age - one checks whether your memory is still working. I do a quick crossword or something and say that seems to be OK. There is a little daily check you have to do just to make sure everything is still in full working order - the legs aren’t too good now, but the mind still keeps going."

"In creating Middlebrass I went through Algy creating Middlebrass and it’s a very strange feeling to write a writer who is writing another character which has nothing to do with me! It wasn’t my hand in Middlebrass, it’s Algy entirely. When we were rehearsing, I remember Naomi saying to me, she found the character of Gemma a bit one-dimensional and I said, ‘Algy is not very good at writing. Blame him.’"

You learn when you’re in theatre - working in any department really - that less is more. Whether in dialogue or acting or design or lighting, practically everything in theatre is better with less of it. That’s the sort of theatre I like, when you suddenly wonder, indeed, if people are acting or the dialogue was actually written. One of the exercises I sometimes do when I get a bit stuck with a play is I take one side of the dialogue out. So in the original scene with Jason and Algy, Algy said a lot more, but the silence compelled the publisher into saying more and more and more. The silence was beginning to get to him and so he got himself into a very terrible man trap and attacked Algy, which he never intended to start. It’s a very long journey - three huge pages of uninterrupted dialogue with Algy just glowering increasingly in a creaky chair. It works quite well. Whereas years ago I would probably have had them going at each other hammer and tongs and it would have been slightly less effective."

One of the devices I use in this play is all the police scenes happen at night and all the real scenes happen in the daytime, which probably helps to tell the story quite clearly, then it’s just a matter of getting the characters not in the scene hidden or off-stage.

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd.