Drowning On Dry Land: Interviews

This section features interview with Alan Ayckbourn about the play Drowning On Dry Land. To access the other interviews, click on the link in the right hand column below. All interviews within this section are drawn from correspondence with the playwright held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

Still Drowning

Drowning On Dry Land: Articles

Drowning On Dry Land
In Drowning on Dry Land, you criticise the celebrity obsession of the society today. How do you explain such an phenomenon in contemporary world? What do you think that has happened to the world?
The celebrity obsession is a phenomenon of today’s world. 50 years ago it didn’t exist in such intensity. What do you think has changed in the world?

Alan Ayckbourn: Answering both these questions together, I think the rise in celebrity culture is due in part to the rapid spread of easy access to mass media for so-called ‘ordinary’ people. What was once an exclusive area reserved for genuine celebrities, be they performers, presenters or politicians is now virtually open to anyone, both via the internet or through television’s proliferating game and talent shows. Andy Warhol’s prediction of a time when everyone regardless of ability enjoys two minutes of fame is rapidly becoming true. In the case of television programme makers, of course, it is also attractively cheap. ‘Ordinary’ people in return for their brief moments of fame are unlikely to charge exorbitant fees.

I’ve been told a documentary inspired you to create the play. Can you explain what got your attention in the film?
There was a documentary on British television a few years ago which explored the celebrity phenomenon. A girl was jumping about in a field singing and waving her arms in the air. Suddenly she stopped and turned to the camera and asked, “Am I famous, yet?” People used to grow up wanting to achieve things. These days many of them simply want to be famous. Famous for what? Famous for being famous?

Why does the main character of the play manage to achieve fame and fortune without having done or achieved anything? Does it emphasise the lack of value and the emptiness of today’s world?
I think in the case of my hero Charlie it was a question of taking the notion to its nonsensical extreme. He is genuinely a man who has achieved nothing, done nothing and been rewarded for it. He’s a born loser. And we know how most of the world loves a loser, an underdog, especially one with great personal charm. As one character says to him in the play that if he, Charlie, can achieve fame and fortune, there’s hope for everyone!

You are one of the most staged and fertile playwright of the world, having written almost 80 plays that were presented in 35 countries around the world. How do you manage to keep the inspiration and the public’s interest?
Running a theatre for 40 years helped. Till I retired recently. I had access to all the tools of playmaking, the personnel and the basic technology. After a few early years of apprenticeship, I was fortunate in having my plays automatically accepted by the Artistic Director, me. Thankfully, having fresh ideas more or less yearly helps a bit, too. Also, apart from directing I don’t really do anything else in the way of writing. No films or novels or epic poems. Just plays.

Your work mixes comedy and drama and provokes reflection and entertainment at the same time? Do you think that is the closest one can get about the reason of your success?
I believe that any good comedy should at its heart be serious. And that any worthwhile drama should include the trace of a smile, however wry. There can’t be, as I’ve said before, light without shadow. I am fortunate that the standpoint from which I write tends generally to be a humorous one, sometimes more in some plays than others. Many people seem to share my view of the world and relate to it, no matter what their nationality or language.

You have said that since the beginning of your career you had to make a profitable theatre, because you wrote to pay the rent. You’ve managed to achieve something quite difficult: popularity and good reviews. Can you try to explain how you do that?
I think the answer is that I’ve always written what I want to write, plays that I then enjoy sharing with companies of actors over the years. We have fun creating and interpreting them together in the rehearsal room and later, when we feel we’re ready, we’ll try to communicate our enjoyment with audiences. BUT I never write plays for individual actors or specifically to please audiences which would be fatal. And NEVER do I write to please critics!

I know you’ve written a play in three days and you find mealtimes boring because it keeps you from work. Writing plays is something that fun and natural for you?
See my previous answer. I think love and laughter are closely allied. I love what I do. When we’re doing it we tend to laugh a lot. (That doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously though!) What is it they say? Take the work seriously, never yourself.

Is it true that your characters gain some kind of autonomy when you are writing and the plot development sometimes surprised you?
I think the characters sometimes surprise me as they develop on the page, displaying characteristics that I never suspected they had. But I don’t start on a play until I have a pretty good idea where it will end. The question is of course (along with when to start it), is choosing when to stop the narrative. Comedy is tragedy interrupted and vice versa.

What moves you to create and keep doing this?
I think these days it’s almost a reflex for me. At certain times of year the need to write comes over me and so long as people keep asking for more - I’ll try and keep responding to the urge for as long as I can. After all, it’s more enjoyable than working for a living.

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