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 by Alan Ayckbourn was written for his revival of Joking Apart at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during 2018.

A Note From The Author

Whenever I start a new play, I like to get outdoors as much as possible.

After all, there's something very refreshing and liberating in allowing your characters to run around in the open air. That way they often lose a lot of their indoor inhibitions.

It's liberating, too, for the writer. The action can flow naturally with characters coming and going without the irritating convention of having to open and close doors behind them, or thinking up excuses to leave the room. ("Is that the doorbell?", "l think l've left my handbag upstairs", etc.)

Everyone is free to come and go, wandering off to another part of the forest or the back garden. Or they're unexpectedly just there. Suddenly emerging from the shrubbery or archways, from behind trees or simply popping out of hedgerows, they can wander about at will, freed from the tyranny of the three-piece suite, the kitchen sink or dining table. They can choose to slouch in deckchairs or lounge on garden benches or perch on low walls, or tree stumps or better still simply sprawl out on the grass and discard items of clothing (English weather permitting). The joy is, I found, if you wish to end the scene suddenly and abruptly, you can always make it rain and let them run for cover.

One of the great choices a dramatist has available, as I explain in my book
The Crafty Art of Playmaking, is that of location or scenic setting.

l've never counted it up but from memory nearly half my plays have been set either totally or partially outdoors. And it's not just the scenery that makes the difference, it has a distinct effect on the characters as well. People l find - well, my people anyway - behave very differently once they're in the fresh air. Take
House & Garden, for instance. Indoors in House matters do admittedly get complicated but on the whole things remain relatively sedate and civilised. Whereas simultaneously outside in Garden, things become positively bacchanalian as the heavens open, mine host becomes entangled with various lusty free-spirited females and tents collapse amidst a flurry of fancy dress, maypoles and Morris men.

I remember with fondness my Leonard and Joan, in Time and Time Again, locked in a passionate illicit embrace, both sliding obliviously deeper into a garden pond. Or later, in
Way Upstream, (more water) the hero and villain slugging it out in the pouring rain. Or most recently, in The Divide, my teenage star-crossed lovers sinking
below the waters of the Secret Pool, fulfilling their mutual suicide pact.

Note to see I really mustn't allow any more of my characters near water, it seldom ends happily!

This year, by coincidence, both my offerings
Joking Apart and Better Off Dead are set outdoors. Hooray! it's nice to get out now and again.

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