Joking Apart: Articles

This section contains articles about Joking Apart by Alan Ayckbourn and other authors. To access the other articles, click on the relevant link in the right-hand column below.

This article about the character of Louise in Joking Apart is drawn from Albert E. Kalson's book Laughter In The Dark - The Plays Of Alan Ayckbourn (Associated Universities Press, 1991).


Saving his most indelible portrait of a woman losing touch with reality for Woman in Mind, Ayckbourn, four years before Intimate Exchanges, had prepared for his later protagonist, Susan, by sketching a subsidiary character, Louise, in Joking Apart (1978).

The play was written as the thirty-eight-year-old Ayckbourn, confronted by his "suddenly adult" eighteen-year-old son, had begun, like his characters, to feel his age. Unusual in its time span, covering as it does twelve years,
Joking Apart's more surprising feature for an Ayckbourn play is its presentation of a perfect male-female relationship. Yet the dramatist is more interested in revealing its disastrous effects on the friends and business associates of the blissfully unmarried charmed couple than he is in exploring the basis of the longstanding relationship of Richard and Anthea.

Sven, Richard's partner in Scandinavian Craftware Co. Ltd., is certain he has a better head for business, but it is Richards instinctive decisions that keep the firm solvent. Once the Finnish Junior Tennis Champion, Sven can only best his partner at the game when Richard, letting him win, plays left-handed. Even worse for Sven than losing would have been, however, is the discovery of his associate's well-meant but nonetheless insulting duplicity on the court. For Brian, who works for the firm, the occasional weekend visits to the ideal couple's country home are particularly painful in light of his unrequited love for Anthea, exacerbated by the fact that his girlfriends find Richard devastatingly attractive. That Brian's three companions, as well as Anthea's daughter Debbie, his last hope for romance, are played by a single actress underscores the futility of Brian's unending search for an Anthea substitute.

Hugh, the local vicar tolerated by his flock, is in love with Anthea too, only to be gently rebuffed when at long last he professes his feelings. Living on the adjoining property, Hugh must suffer Richard's success in his role as father to Anthea's children, a constant reminder of his own failure. His brilliant seventeen-year-old son Christopher, recipient of a University Open Scholarship, refuses to speak to either of his parents, whom he treats "like a couple of deaf-mute retainers" (186). Hugh's shy, birdlike wife Louise, traumatised by the gulf between herself and her husband, herself and her son, drifts toward the inevitable breakdown. At Debbie's eighteenth-birthday party, Louise, "bright, like a painted doll, smiling incessantly, but unnaturally, as one under the influence of drugs", comforts herself by bursting into song - unfortunately a hymn - and must be led away by her mortified husband. If Louise is regressing toward adolescence and childhood, she does not complete the movement as does Hazel in
Wildest Dreams, who is crawling on all fours by the end of the play.

The woman losing her mind, again a vicar's wife and the mother of a son who has not spoken to his parents for years, moves once more from the periphery to the centre, of the stage. What makes Susan in
Woman in Mind Ayckbourn's most devastating study of incipient madness is that the audience views her subjectively, from her own disoriented point of view, a perspective suggested by his reading about a man trying to wrench a woman's head off her shoulders in Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985).

The subjective approach, however, is the inevitable refinement of Ayckbourn's probing of the unbalanced mind, an obsessive theme stemming from his mother's deep but temporary bout of depression. Becoming as fragmented as the character Susan, the audience surrenders to her loss of reason.
(Albert F. Kalson, Laughter In The Dark - The Plays Of Alan Ayckbourn, pp. 105-106)

Copyright: Albert F. Kalson. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.