The Norman Conquests: Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

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

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn by John Soltes was published in the New Jersey Leader on 23 June 2009.

The New Jersey Leader interview with Alan Ayckbourn

The Norman Conquests, Alan Ayckbourn's comedic trilogy currently being revived on Broadway, offers audience members a chance to watch the hilarious disintegration of an extended family's visit to the old country house, where love is in the air and fire is on the tongue. Whether it's the lothario Norman and his sexual exploits, or Annie, the semi-depressed homebody charged with looking after mother, The Norman Conquests offers a unique portrait of bitter familial relations. Recently, The Leader exchanged e-mails with Ayckbourn as he was preparing to direct his play, How the Other Half Loves, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England.

How did the idea to write The Norman Conquests materialise? Was it always intended to be a trilogy, or did that format evolve as you wrote?
Yes, it was always intended as a trilogy. I mentioned, jokingly, that I might be writing a trilogy next to a local Scarborough journalist at the end of one summer season here and the following year, to my consternation, it was 'trailed' in the local paper "trilogy expected." My first instinct was to ask them to print a denial, but then I thought, what the hell, and went ahead and wrote a trilogy anyway.

After writing so much dialogue and so many scenes for this motley bunch of characters, did you grow fonder of them as you spent more time with them?
I always try to write characters I like and care for to some degree - after all, there's a lot of myself hidden in most of them. I don't necessarily love them all, you understand, but I'm fond enough of them to spend time in their company, first during the writing and then ultimately for the duration of the performance of the play. Many of them would drive me crazy to live with, indeed many of them would. One of my recurring nightmares is that they all turn up one day and ring my front doorbell. There would be literally hundreds of them.

When writing the plays, which rely heavily on ensemble acting and almost precise comedic timing, were you conscious of the obstacle that actors might have with the piece?
I was an actor of course, early on. I've spent most of my career since, working as writer and director in the Round (95 percent of my plays were written initially for that medium). The Round is ideal for ensemble acting and very much unsuitable for so-called star vehicles. Which suits me fine, I have no interest in star vehicles. Team playing is hard, yes, but it's infinitely more rewarding to engage in and, I feel, both to work in and to watch.

Do you ever think what the characters might be doing today? After watching their progression (or perhaps regression) over seven hours, there is a sense of knowing these people and caring about where they end up. Do you ever resolve their problems?
Not really. A play (or plays in this case), invariably starts in the middle of something and finishes in the middle of something. Leaving us free to conjecture and theorise. What we, as audience, are granted in the two hours of our visit is a glimpse into their alternative world. Finity is dull!

Is there one character that you see yourself the most like? Or, as the writer, are they all a reflection of some part of your personality?
I once said I thought I was essentially Reg inside, but probably came across to people as Tom, but would dearly love to have been Norman! They're all me, though. To paraphrase the Bard if you cut them, I will bleed.

Copyright: John Soltes. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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