The Norman Conquests: Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This section contains various interviews with Alan Ayckbourn regarding The Norman Conquests. Click on a link below to access the interviews.

Correspondence with Alan Ayckbourn

This correspondence is held in the Ayckbourn Archive, although no details of either when or with whom has been recorded.

Which character in The Norman Conquests do you sympathise with the most, and why?
I think I feel sorry for all of them in different ways. They are all victims of themselves and of the people they've chosen, or indeed not chosen, to live with. Annie must come pretty high on the list.

Do you feel the plays show women in a negative light and are the men made to seem like the victims?
No. I think that is too simple. They are all in turn victims of each other at times. Is Ruth the victim of Norman? Sometimes. Or is Norman the victim of Ruth? Occasionally. He claims to be a victim but that's not the same thing at all. I think Sarah's like she is because of Reg. Who can blame her?

Do you get satisfaction from directing your own work?
Very much, especially the first and second time around when I am still in love with the play. As time passes I begin to become a bit disenchanted as the flaws begin to show up in the writing. But then, I am so involved in the writing I am doing now. That naturally is more absorbing and satisfying, as it should be.

Was there anyone in particular who you based Norman's character on?
Not really. I once said Norman was how I'd love to be, Tom was how I appeared and Reg was what I feared I'd become. They're all parts of me, male and female characters.

What made you choose the dining room, sitting room and garden as locations for your trilogy?
They were sort of logical locations. I'd just done kitchens - three of them - in Absurd Person Singular so I couldn't use them again. Living Rooms and Dining Rooms seemed ideal locations for people to assemble or pass through giving me a great freedom to move my characters about. A lot of The Norman Conquests is about getting people on and off. The garden naturally followed and gave the piece a nice contrast. Drama always has such a different feel when it's out of doors.

Would you consider writing a sequel to The Norman Conquests?
Heavens, no. I've said all I want to say about that lot!

Apart from the practical reasons, why did you decide to write The Norman Conquests as three separate plays?
I wanted to explore offstage life. That is, the life of characters immediately before they come on and just after they leave the stage. I was also interested in experimenting with theatrical form. Whether in viewing the same weekend three times and making each play a complete evening in itself, I could also uncover fresh insights and altered perceptions of the characters each time someone sat down to re-see it. And whether seeing them in different orders would change their perception. As far as I know this had never been tried and although it owes a lot to the form, it's not strictly multi-viewpoint theatre. I love pushing theatre to see how far it will shove.

If you could meet one of the characters from The Norman Conquests, who would it be and why?
Well, I'd probably cross the road if I saw any of them coming but I suppose Annie would be the most likely.

The Norman Conquests is a very humorous play, but there lies beneath the humour, a darker side, where human weaknesses are exposed. Was it your intention to write the play in this way?
I always set out, when I write a play, with some fairly serious intentions. The stronger the serious base upon which I build a play, the more I can allow my humorous side to run away a bit. I love this tension that the comic and the serious create when they run successfully side by side. It's a matter of balance: too dark becomes unbearable; too light and you are in danger of laughing at the characters which is really for a writer a terrible act of betrayal.

How difficult was it to write The Norman Conquests crosswise?
I think it all seemed fairly easy at the time. The problem was that one could never, as the writer, read the plays individually with an innocent eye. I needed several fresh pairs of eyes to read them before I was assured that they worked 'downwards' as well as crosswise.

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