Golden Rules for Directing

On 29 June 1961 (I know, we’re a day late with the blog!), Alan Ayckbourn directed his very first professional production at the Library Theatre, Scarborough.

It was a hugely significant step in his theatrical career as it would form the two prongs of the careers which would dominate his life from that point forward: playwriting and directing.

Alan Ayckbourn has often said he considers himself a director first and foremost as he has spent more time directing plays than he has writing them. He has directed more than 350 plays during his life and is one of the world’s foremost directors in-the-round.

To mark the event, I’ve found some correspondence written by the playwright during 2017 in which he talks about how to direct his own plays (with an emphasis on farce).

Alan Ayckbourn directing during 2004 (© Tony Bartholomew /

Alan Ayckbourn’s Golden Rules For Directing Farce (and other plays!)

  1. Less is more.
  2. One big laugh is worth five sub-titters.
  3. If you do find a new laugh, instinctively mistrust it. If you do decide to keep it, be sure, in order to maintain the dramatic balance to take another one out to compensate.
  4. Trust the vehicle to get you there.
  5. Ask yourself constantly, is what I’m doing telling the story or am I taking everyone on a diversion from the main journey?
  6. Never be tempted to look out of the window and wave. (Isn’t this funny, folks?) Sit back and enjoy the journey along with the audience.
  7. Never be tempted to get out and push. They’ll rarely applaud or thank you for the effort. Never entirely trust an audience either, they are like dubious strangers lurking outside the school gates offering sweeties if you please them. But resist their wily blandishments. They will never stay to thank you and your innocence will be gone for ever.
  8. Remember it is a farce. The definition of farce, in my view, is people taking themselves very seriously throughout an increasingly absurd series of circumstances. People in farces rarely laugh and never see the joke.
  9. The best type of laugh is so subtle that every individual in the audience is convinced for a split second that they are the only person to have seen it.
  10. The converse of that is the forced or, worst of all, the laugh which is repeated for effect. Less is always more.

You can find out more about Alan Ayckbourn’s directing career and his thoughts on directing at his official website by clicking here.

You can also find out more about Alan Ayckbourn’s thoughts on directing and writing in his acclaimed book The Crafty Art of Playmaking (Faber, 2002), which is available on Amazon here.

Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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