Nothing Changes…

Eight years ago today, the National Theatre revived Alan Ayckbourn’s seminal ’80s play A Small Family Business.

A Small Family Business 2014 revival poster (© National Theatre)

The play is a searing state of the nation play and was regarded on its world premiere at the National in 1987 as one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most challenging and ambitious works.

Whilst researching the play, I came across the following in archive, which highlights just how little the world has changed in the past 35 years and how what A Small Family Business has to say is as relevant now as it was in 1987 or 2014.

This was written by Alan Ayckbourn in response to an angry piece of correspondence decrying the play as being mis-sold as a comedy (it wasn’t ever sold as a comedy) and that Alan Ayckbourn had drastically departed from his normal mode of writing (he hadn’t, he’d been writing tragi-comedies since 1972).

This is Alan’s response which highlights just how relevant the play still is and how nothing really changes no matter how much time passes…

“Even at my most optimistic, and I am rarely that, I have never sought to ignore real life in my plays. Though in the past many have chosen to ignore the underlying sadness and savagery in them and treated them as jolly romps, alas.

A Small Family Business is not a comedy. I don’t describe it as that. It is a play. It has humour in it; it also has sadness. And some anger. Above all, I hope it has truth.

“It says what I want to say about the state of the nation today. That collectively it is as greedy; selfish, and as lacking in any overall moral leadership, as over-obsessed with the material as opposed to the spiritual as any this country has seen.

“The play postulates that even if there was a truly honest man he would be hard pressed not to be corrupted, so ill-defined and shaky is our current code of moral conduct, the border lines between right and wrong.

“It concludes that not one of us can distance ourselves from the distress and sorrow around us. Nothing terribly original. I think Jesus said it and several Greek Dramatists before him.”

Alan Ayckbourn, 1987

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

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