Over the decades there has been much discussion about farce and Alan Ayckbourn.
Far many years, he was considered a farceur (the playwright doesn’t think he is) and that many of his plays were farces (the playwright doesn’t think they are). These were labels which the playwright felt were lazily applied early in his career based on West End productions which he had little involvement in.
Alan Ayckbourn generally doesn’t like labels for his plays, which is why he calls them ‘plays’ rather than comedies or farces or tragic-comedies. He firmly believes he isn’t a farceur or a writer of farces.
Except for one play. Taking Steps.
That is unashamedly a farce and the exception ton the rule for the playwright. After all, when you’ve written 85 plays and you consider only one is a farce, it hardly makes you a farceur. On that evidence, he’s equally a science-fiction or a thriller writer as he’s written far more of those.
Alan himself tackled the nature of farce in his programme note for Taking Steps, which opened on 28 September 1979 and which is reprinted here.
Taking Steps by Alan Ayckbourn
I’ve written very little true Farce. The trouble with Farce is that it is either successful or it isn’t. Not a lot of leeway for error.
There are plenty of Straight Plays that aren’t all that marvellous; but at least they’re interesting. Whoever heard of an interesting farce? It’s either funny or it isn’t funny. And if it isn’t funny you can hear the silence that reigns instead and that isn’t at all funny.
You can have a Comedy that’s fairly funny. Not funny all the time because, being slightly better bred than common old Farce, being a Comedy it has one or two things of Deep Importance to say which require that we endure a rather reverential bit occasionally (referred to in the musical hall world as the “But seriously now, folks…” moment). This is known as the Dramatist making a Serious Point (see also Bid For Posterity).
But with Farce, you’re on a hiding to nothing. You don’t get fairly funny Farces. Well, not after the second night, you don’t. The Game is Up. Everyone knows what you so lamentably failed to achieve. A great deal of laughter.
Unlike the Comedy writer who can smile mysteriously when confronted by a member of his audience who failed to crack a smile all evening. “Ah,” he can murmur, “but maybe you were never intended to laugh, had you considered that?”
Taking Steps is a Farce. It’s meant to make you laugh. If it doesn’t, I’m sorry. If it makes you cry, have a word with the director as I refuse to take responsibility for that as well. *
It was written to be played in-the-round, originally. Which is why it is, unusually, a Farce with absolutely no doors. Instead it has floors.
* Of course, Alan Ayckbourn was also the director of this particular production…
You can find out more about Taking Steps at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website by clicking here.
Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.