Another day, another anniversary! On 31 July 1969, one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most famous works premiered at the Library Theatre, Scarborough.
To mark the day, I’ve delved into the archives and found an article by Alan Ayckbourn, written in 1973, in which he discusses the creation and early success of How The Other Half Loves.
How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn
“Why?” asked a certain lady in the audience when How the Other Half Loves was on its pre-London tour, “why are they all acting in the same room when it’s obviously supposed to be two totally different rooms?” Her companion’s answer was succinct and knowledgeable. “They’re economising on the scenery, dear,” she replied.
Actually, the piece started, like all my others, in a tiny theatre in Scarborough, in a public library where we present new plays to entertain often very wet holidaymakers. It’s an in-the-round theatre, so we were able to economise still further by having no scenery at all.
I wrote it, as usual, at the last minute – it was already announced and several seats had been sold and, rather than be sued for misrepresentation or whatever, I closeted myself for several days and nights and hammered away.
Subsequently, of course, it went through a refining process with productions at Leicester at the Phoenix, and then at the Lyric in London.
It’s had three different endings and several beginnings and I won’t say that the middle hasn’t been altered from time to time. For several performances early on I was actually forced, through illness in the cast, to take over the part of Frank. I distinguished myself, not only by having to carry a script (I can never learn my own lines), but by actually losing several pages during the action and having to ad-lib a scene. My fellow actors, confronted by the sight of this actor-director-author in full flow, spouting fresh dialogue, stood uncertainly about convinced that these must be new re-writes about which they hadn’t been told. I later rushed off, jotted it down, and it’s in there somewhere to this day.
As to the play itself; well, there are standard questions that every profession get asked. Actors are sometimes demanded to reveal what they do in the daytime when they’re not working. Airline pilots, presumably, whether they ever get giddy looking out of their windows. Playwrights get asked where they get their ideas from. The answer to this is, I don’t know but if I did I’d go there more often but I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone else where it was.
A little about How the Other Half Loves can be revealed, though, as I happen to remember quite clearly. It came about when I was living in one of those soulless blocks of flats, identical boxes piled one on top of the other. One or two friends lived in similar segments of this concrete honeycomb and from time to time we visited one another. It became, I found, increasingly difficult purely because of the same-ness of the rooms and consequently identical furnishing arrangements, to remember whether you were in their house or your own. Particularly late at night, with the lights dimmed, mellowed with food and drink, you could have witnessed assorted couples, looking clandestinely at their watches, wishing the others would go home so they could go to bed. Each day, each of us, occupied more or less identical areas, trod the same well worn paths from kitchen to dining table, table to chair, chair to bed. It was a small step mentally, to superimpose one flat on another, emphasise the differences in the couples as they wove in and out of each other, pursuing their separate pleasures and traumas.
Anyway, all that apart, when we first rehearsed this play, we found, in amongst our apprehension, that it was enjoyable to do. I hope it remains so. It’s always seemed to me that if I can write something in which the actors can find enjoyment, there’s always a chance that audiences will be encouraged to do the same.
Robert Morley was once asked by a reporter when we first opened in Leeds, what the play was about. “I haven’t the faintest idea, old chap,” he boomed. And then, with a broad smile “but it’s enormous fun doing it, all the same.”
You can find out more about How The Other Half Loves at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website here.
Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproducer without permission of the copyright holder.