Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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{ Interview }


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Linda Marlow | King Rollo | Alan Ayckbourn & John Godber

DOUBLE VISION

A TWO-ACT PLAY ABOUT DOUBLE ACTS

ACT ONE

The backstage area at a small, provincial theatre. The concrete floor is littered with costume baskets, bits of scenery, paintbrushes, tools…

( SFX: voices approaching down a corridor; the clink of ice against glass; clicking of security lock; the squeak of an opening door)

A thickset, middle-aged man walks confidently across the space towards the door of the Green Room. He is dressed in leather jacket and loose open-necked, long sleeved shirt over pale trousers. Close behind follows the tall, stooping figure of a slightly older man, dressed in black jeans, jumper and smart new black trainers with thin luminous stripes. The first man is Godbourn, an ex-teacher turned successful playwright. The second man is Ayckber, an ex-actor turned even more successful playwright. Teetering behind the two men are Wilman and Goodsea, Ab Fab ex-extras turned arts critics. As they approach the security door, it swings shut in their faces.

(SFX: strangled sobs and strange choking sound; scuffling behind door)

Godbourn opens Green Room door.

GOD: Good to see you again, old man
AYCK: Yes, and you

(SFX: even louder strangled sobs, strange choking sounds and scuffling from behind security door)

GOD: Now what's happened to those two women?
AYCK: Which two women?

(SFX: Loud banging on security door)

Godbourn strides across workshop area and opens door. Ab Fab ex-extras fall into workshop, just managing to avoid spilling large glasses of gin and tonic. They totter behind Godbourn, who strides back across the workshop to the Green Room.

The Green Room is divided by a work surface which separates kitchen and seating areas. The small seating area contains two cream canvas sofas, facing each other across a coffee table. A chair is placed at the top of the coffee table, at right angles to the sofas. Godbourn, Ayckber, Wilman and Goodsea perform a circular shuffle around the coffee table, somewhat akin to a game of musical chairs. Fortunately Godbourn stops in front of the chair; the others grab the nearest seat - Wilman next to Ayckber on one sofa, with Goodsea opposite Ayckber on the other sofa.

(SFX: Silence)

(SFX: Clink of ice against glass, followed by spluttering sound)

Goodsea moves to the edge of her seat, trying to adopt the sort of intelligent, aloof and laconic image worn by critics on the Late Show. Wilman scrabbles in her bag for a pen, flicks over the pages of her notebook and looks around with a pert grin.

THE INTERVIEW

Godbourne (mine host) looks vaguely genial. Ayckber (revered master) looks vaguely grumpy.

GOOD: You are both deeply involved in running theatres which are also community resources. The two events which have sold out during the Literature Festival have been BIG NAMES (yourselves and Kate Adie). This indicates that there are many people interested in the personalities of the theatre and the media (i.e. in celebrities) but not necessarily in theatre itself. For example, Linda Marlowe's one-woman show Diatribe of Love, which went down very well at the Edinburgh Festival, played to a relatively small audience. How do you try to widen the appeal of theatre and bring in new audiences?

(WILM's pen is poised expectantly)

AYCK: Many people find theatre quite daunting and will say, if asked, that they are not theatre goers. It can be a class and gender thing.

(WILM. scribbles furiously)

GOD: You try to find new audiences by trying new things. You try to write plays that you'd enjoy yourself……

GOOD.displays a Brechtian banner to audience, carrying wording as follows: Hang on a minute. Didn't he do some degree or other in German Expressionist Theatre. He must like that, then. Of course! I've completely overlooked the close parallels in the style, structure and meaning between Bouncers, On the Piste and that popular German Expressionist play Masses and Man - or was it Masses of Men?

GOD: (in full flow) Attracting audiences isn't necessarily to do with the price of tickets. Peter Brook once said that if you gave away theatre tickets, people still wouldn't come, because they won't make the effort.

(WILM. scribbles energetically)

AYCK: Audiences have expectations of what they are going to see. They don't necessarily like you to write something different, because they're always measuring it against the successful and familiar plays you have written in the past. Theatre buildings need individuals to act as a light to attract the moths, to bring in good actors.

GOD: Actors certainly don't come here for the money. They come here because they want to work here and they stay because they're part of the theatre building.

AYCK: There's a great incentive to write if you know that your work will get produced. For example, when David Hare worked at the National with Richard Eyre, his output was high because he knew the work would be performed.

(WILM scribbles frenetically)

(SFX: Silence)

GOOD. looks around expectantly, then realises they are waiting for the next question. Tries to look bright, bubbly and conspiratorial all at the same time. Ends up looking confused.

GOOD: Ah…..oh…. er…..and what about writing for other media?

GOD: TV kills writers - you aren't aware of who's writing

GOOD. displays another banner: And I thought writers were self-effacing people who existed for the sake of their art.

GOOD: (looking a tad disillusioned): And what about this festival business? I expect you find it all rather irritating?

GOD: Not at all. They should happen twice a year. They built up momentum, then they disappear and the audiences forget about it all.

(WILM. scribbles effusively)

GOOD: Do you think there are disadvantages to having a well-known playwright so closely connected with a provincial theatre?

AYCK: It doesn't necessarily guarantee success. People are quick to accuse you of making mistakes.

GOOD displays a further banner: Is that YES or NO?

GOOD: And what about theatre in education work?

GOD jumps in quickly: 'Oh well, we've just had a very successful schools tour - a version of 'Bouncers' which has been booked by over 30 schools and went down very well'

GOOD produces another banner: And there I was spending all those hours preparing workshop materials, devising original performances about issues and curriculum things, when all you have to do is give 'em a slice of nightlife in their hometown and they turn into fully-formed, theatre loving, empathetic, sensitive, creative human beings.

(WILM stops scribbling)

WILM: As the ice in our G&Ts; has melted, this had better be the last question. So here it is, the big one…..What is THE MOST IRRITATING QUESTION you have ever been asked?

(Sadly WILM. was so overcome with having asked a question that she forgot to write down the answer. The thoughts of the great men on this taxing and gritty issue are therefore lost forever…or are they? …(see Act Two))

Godbourn, Ayckber, Wilman and Goodsea stand up and begin to shuffle again. Goodsea suddenly dives for her bag.

GOOD: Oh I say, I nearly forgot. Could we possibly have a photo for the website?

Godbourn and Ayckber acquiesce amiably and shuffle along to stand next to each other, hands clasped in front of them.

GOOD: I'm TERRIBLY sorry, but you're going to have to sit down. I can't get all of both of you in frame.

Godbourn and Ayckber obligingly sit on the sofa, looking slightly ill at ease.

GOOD: A little closer, please? Come along, shuffle up a bit. That's lovely. Thanks.

Wilman and Goodsea gather up their things and edge out of the Green Room. Godbourn and Ayckber retire to the kitchen section. Godbourn picks up a tea towel.

GOD: You wash and I'll dry?

(SFX: Voices off: WILMAN: You've got more lines than I have in this play, you bitch. Just because you wrote it yourself, doesn't mean you have to give yourself the best part……' GOODSEA: 'Don't be so ridiculous. You were too busy taking notes.. Anyway, taking notes is very important. Look what happened when you forgot….)


Caption Competition

CAPTION COMPETITION
Can you think of a suitable caption for this photo?
The prize for the winning entry is an all-expenses-paid weekend in a caravan in Withernsea.


ACT TWO

The main auditorium, almost full. The two Ab Fab ex-extras are now part of the audience. An excited buzz of chatter which, as the house lights fade, turns into enthusiastic applause. A thickset, middle-aged man walks confidently across the acting space. He is dressed in leather jacket and loose open-necked, long sleeved shirt over pale trousers. Close behind follows the tall, stooping figure of a slightly older man, dressed in black jeans, jumper and smart new black trainers with thin luminous stripes. The first man is Godbourn, an ex-teacher turned successful playwright. The second man is Ayckber, an ex-actor turned even more successful playwright. In a symbolic gesture Godbourn tosses his leather jacket onto a piece of set depicting a pile of books and sits in one of the two IKEA style canvas chairs, Ayckber sits in the other. Godbourn is relaxed, Ayckber not.

GOD: Good evening and welcome. I am artistic director of Hull Truck Theatre.

A frisson of appreciation from an audience who has been introduced to He Who Needs No Introduction. God. opens his mouth.

(SFX: Roars of laughter from the audience)

Godbourn raises the first point:

GOD: We were talking earlier of audiences. Many people find theatre quite daunting.

At this point, two latecomers hesitatingly enter the theatre.

GOD: Come in and sit down.

(SFX: Extravagant laughter from the audience)

LATECOMER: ( daunted ) Sorry.

AYCK: Audiences don't necessarily like you to write something different because they're always measuring it against the successful and familiar plays you've written in the past.

GOD: The difference between a theatre audience and a film audience is that a theatre audience always comes out talking whereas a cinema audience comes out silent.

WILM: ( Whisper ) Didn't we ask...?

GOOD: ( Whisper ) Wasn't that the same as......?

AYCK / GOD FAN: Shh.......

As the talk continues, Ayckber seems to be rehearsing for Lady Macbeth, wringing his hands and outing damned spots for all he is worth. Yet the more uncomfortable he is, the more he talks. Godbourn becomes the interviewer, Ayckber the honoured guest.

AYCK: ..and - well we may as well get this out of the way - the MOST IRRITATING QUESTION I get asked is…

GOOD. nudges WILM. violently. WILM. chokes on her G&T.;

GOOD: (whisper) Now DON'T miss it this time.

AYCK: …'Where do you get your ideas from?' And I usually say (crescendo) ' I REALLY DON'T KNOW AND I WOULDN'T TELL YOU IF I DID.'

(SFX: Burst of applause from the audience)

GOD: How many plays have you written now, Alan?

AYCK: Lost count, about 60 I think. Some are stronger than others, of course, but you have to write number 12 before you can write 13.

( Pause )

You've written quite a few yourself, though.

GOD: I have, but not as many as you.

AYCK: No, not as many as me.

GOD: You write very quickly, I believe.

AYCK: But not as quickly as you!

GOD: I've been known to ring up our marketing department and ask what it says the play's about on the poster before I start writing!

(SFX: Gales of laughter from the audience)

At the interval, Godbourn retrieves his jacket and the two men exit. Wilman and Goodsea battle through a herd of leather jackets in the bar in order to recharge their gin and tonics.

WILM: Shall we make them doubles?

GOOD: I think we'd better.

After the interval Godbourn and Ayckber enter as before

(SFX: Unstoppable laughter from the audience)

GOD. raises his hand. The laughter diminishes to a respectful titter.

GOD: Welcome back everyone. Alan, you've been so successful what is there left for you to do as a playwright?

AYCK: When I was at the National recently, watching 2000 people pour out of the Cottisloe and the Olivier having watched two of my plays I thought, admittedly in a moment of vanity, why haven't I got all three theatres?

(SFX: Huge appreciative laughter from the audience. The expression on Godbourn's face is difficult to discern. Outwardly he is amused and entertained by Ayckber's comment. Inwardly he calculates the likelihood of Bouncers ever getting to the National. Well, Grand National, perhaps - pretty good name for a race horse, he thinks to himself.)

A beat.

GOD: Time for questions I think. Yes, you sir, in the Val Doonican sweater.

(SFX: Swelling laughter from the audience)

O.A.P.: We went to Scarborough to see that caravan play of yours, John, what was it called now? .

Note: I think, Wilman, that they're called Senior Citizens now, or Revered Ancients, or some such thing - Goodsea

AYCK ( testily ) Perfect Pitch.

O.A.P: That's right. The language was so shocking that when people came out there was silence, just silence. So my question is…..

GOD: Yes?

O.A.P.: Was it too good for Scarborough?

Silence. Shock. Nervous laughter. Godbourn looks bemused. Ayckber looks aghast.

GOD: Any more questions?

Muted sounds of scuffling

GOOD: ( whisper ); What's happening over there?

WILM: ( whisper ) I think the old chap in that striking sweater with the maroon and turquoise stripes is being encouraged to leave.

After a few more questions , Godbourn thanks the audience for coming and the two playwrights depart to hearty applause and cheers. Lights slowly fade on the canvas chairs, still bearing indentations of the two great backsides on them. As the audience leave, one or two members break away to stroke the immortal dents reverentially.

WILM: Come on then. That was the last event of the Festival. Time to go.

GOOD: Hang on a moment.

WILM: What are you waiting for?

GOOD: I'm waiting for God.…

WILM: Oh.