Joking Apart: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"I think it is a bit different to anything I have written before. For one thing there is the time span.... Better comedy writing is always an inch away from being tragedy. I try to tread the tightrope. I think in this case the rope is fairly good, but I never really know where the balance is until I see the audience reaction. People could well see a darker side to it. Another thing about this play is that it could not be written by anyone under 38 years old. Suddenly I have written a middle-aged play. One doesn't realise time has flown. I think of the '60s as being yesterday, but already actors are writing to me who were born at the end of the 1960s.... The play is a sort of look back over the last twelve years."
(Scarborough Evening News, January 1978)

"I announced the title of Joking Apart, in December, and didn't start writing it until the middle of January…. Joking Apart really came out of the realisation that my eldest son was eighteen, able to vote, buying me pints, old enough to drive me about in his own car. I suddenly caught up with the passage of time. I am 38. It's quite a shock. Until now my plays have always been on a very limited time scale, but I set this one over 12 years, hoping to show what time does to people just by passing. For the first time I'm feeling it touch me."
(Daily Mail, 28 February 1978)

"I knew a couple, she was a tremendously bubbly woman and he [her husband] was very grand, very important. My friends asked, 'What's happened to so-and so?' - meaning the local vicar. And she said, 'Oh, he's lost his faith!' And he went, 'I don't think that was called for.' She went 'Oh !' - as though he'd hit her, whack! Well, there were three things. He had put her down for blabbing: obviously she kept saying things that in his opinion she shouldn't have. Then there was the vicar who'd lost his faith, which fascinated me anyway, and there was the fact that this man wasn't going to talk about it; there were all those things going on, within just a few seconds."
(September 1979)

"They're [Richard and Anthea] perfect because they have wonderful kids, they mange to buy a house in the country for an absolute song and they always know a little man round the corner who can do a repair job. But having created such paragons, I wanted to know what effect they would have on other characters."
(The Scotsman, 24 February 1979)

"The snare of the play, I feel, is to mistake it as being a play about Richard and Anthea when they're really only the catalysts that spark off the misery in all the others - who are the central characters. The importance, having said that, is to give Richard and Anthea effortless ease and charm so that we can see why everything's happened - and how easily people fall under their spell. They're never really aware of the problems of others. They're certainly not vindictive. They're just winners."
(Personal correspondence, 1983)

"I suppose the play [
Joking Apart] says that, in an imperfect world, the unremittingly perfect can prove to be just as much a source of unhappiness as it can happiness. For, in the end, we must either attempt to destroy it or reduce it to our level; destroy ourselves through envy or vainly and fatally attempting to compete. I suppose that, as a theme, it is likely to remain relevant so long as there are people who resent being created unequal and thus can never find it in their hearts to celebrate the good fortune or accomplishments of others."
(Personal correspondence, 1986)

"Nothing is more boring than watching two successful, smug people in love sitting on a stage. A very angry woman once said to me in a bar, 'You miserable old sod. Hundreds of us live very happily with one another. Why can't you write about us?' So i wrote Joking Apart. The play is about a happy couple - you know, those awful people whose fridge never goes wrong and who get everything for half the price you paid for it. But being me, I surrounded them with characters who become jealous of them and try to compete. One has a heart attack, another a nervous breakdown; another wrecks his marriage and these golden people sail off into the sunset."
(Cosmopolitan, September 1992)

"What's interesting about partnerships that have been going for a bit is the way each outthinks the other, you know, or just anticipates the other. Finishes the sentences for them, repeats them. In
Joking Apart, it's the first time I really explored this; couples often play different dialogues in public to what they play in private. They have a sort of 'public jokey style' which is almost played out front to you, and you think 'my goodness, they're trying to entertain me'... and you find yourself smiling perpetually."
(Artscene, July 2002)

“I wrote Joking Apart years ago - it was the nearest I’d got at that stage of my life to writing an autumnal play, about the sadness of getting older. I was then approaching my 40s and feeling extremely old - I realise now, of course, that I was extremely young!"

"They [the people around Anthea & Richard] crash and burn through misery, jealousy and misplaced love as this couple blaze through the play, relatively untouched by the mayhem they cause and aren't sympathetic when the others have problems. All the other characters are 'cracked', and in the 12-year-span of the play you get to see those cracks turn into fissures, so there's both a tragic theme and a comic theme."
(The Press, 2 August 2018)

"I wrote Joking Apart in 1978. In the canon, it’s sort of middle period. It was at a time when I was rather fed up with my reputation of being the fun man of the West End and so I decided to write this play with slightly more depth to it. Partly because I had decided to explore character rather than situation. If you explore character - as anyone who has written will tell you - you’re bound to encounter a bit of darkness along the way; most of us have a dark side. I began to discover darknesses in my characters in the early plays such as Just Between Ourselves and Absent Friends, which were particularly dark. I was looking for the happy medium really, I think, balancing the comedic with the dark and I felt with Joking Apart, I got pretty near to what I wanted. So this was a sort of cornerstone play for me, a turning point. I was able to carry on and write my comic-serious plays like Man Of The Moment, A Small Family Business and they all stemmed back to Joking Apart."
(Post-show Question & Answer, 2018)

"There were a couple of Finns in my life, both of whom - if I may use the colloquialism - pissed me off a bit. And I decided to gently get my revenge in
Joking Apart." [1]
(Post-show Question & Answer, 2018)

"The misunderstanding of the play is that people often think I was writing a play about Richard and Anthea: I was writing a play about Sven, about us, about the inequalities of life. Why the hell should someone be born with less ability than another? Some people seem, in our lives, to have a natural aptitude for everything - everything they touch....
"I wanted to avoid a 'happy marriage' [Anthea and Richard are living together, having never married]. I wanted to give them a grounding of less than conventionality. There's a suspicion that Anthea wasn't happy in the past, that things haven't always been that incredible: it was the mating of Richard and Anthea - a second time round, in fact - that fused into a sort of ideal oneness where everything came right for her."
(Interview with Alan Ayckbourn from Ian Watson's Conversations With Ayckbourn)

Archivist notes
[1] There have been a number of suggestions on whom Sven is based on in
Joking Apart over the years, the most likely being the director Casper Wrede - who directed the television adaptation of Time & Time Again - and Scarborough Councillor and hotelier Erkki Lahteela, who Alan came into conflict with during the early 1970s when the future of the Library Theatre was at risk (an article about these events can be found here).

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