Time Of My Life: Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This page contains two interviews with Alan Ayckbourn. The first by his archivist Simon Murgatroyd took place in December 2012. The second was first published in the Westport Country Playhouse's programme for the 2008 production of Time Of My Life.

Simon Murgatroyd Interviews Alan Ayckbourn (2012)

Simon Murgatroyd: What led you to decide to revive Time Of My Life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2013?
Alan Ayckbourn:
It’s a play I like and I wanted to do again. It is, for me, fairly recent actually. Much more so in my mind than the first production of Absurd Person Singular which I revived last year, but it’s just far enough away that quite a lot of people won’t have seen it. I also think it’s still very much apposite in that it has very relevant themes running through it.

Is it a favourite of yours?
It has some jolly nice parts in it - most of my plays have nice parts for women, but this has some very nice parts for men. It’s quite dramatic and it’s quite a personal play. It has layers of great sadness and irony, but it’s also pretty funny. It’s got all the ingredients you need. It’s also incidentally, one of my few northern plays.

What is Time Of My Life about?
It’s one of my J.B. Priestley-esque plays, I think. It deals with time and its theme is very much about living for the moment. How we sometimes fail to realise where we are in our lives - if only we stopped and just looked around for a moment. We seem to spend most of our lives looking backwards or forwards; we look forward to something but when it arrives, it’s never quite what we expect and we look back on other things rather longingly and wished we’d enjoyed it more when we were there.

And it has a rather unusual structure.
It’s about three couples and their perception of this certain moment - the time of their lives - but they’re all moving through time in different ways. There is a pair who live on throughout the duration of the play in two hours, doing literally nothing in real time; there’s another couple who we briefly see in that time and then we perceive them hurtling forward at quite a speed over the next two years and who have a global view of events and are always looking back on that evening and who reveal what happens to the other characters as well. The third pair are receding backwards away from that evening. So they start off at the brink of going to the meal and then we slowly start going back through two months of their lives to their first meeting.
Everything converges on this single event, a birthday party which serves as a unity. It’s all set in the same restaurant and is held together by this one location.

It marked the first time you’d written a play which moved backwards and forwards in time, how does this effect the drama?
It’s essentially quite a detailed portrait of a family’s fortunes and misfortunes over two years. What the time element allows me to do is to offer different perspectives.

It was originally a success in Scarborough, but wasn’t as successful in the West End, why was that?
The West End production was slightly out of focus - but I can’t blame that on anyone but myself! It’s not an easy play to do in the end-stage and suffered as a result in London. It’s a perfect round play actually and really works well in-the-round because we’re in the restaurant with the family and over-hearing conversations at tables. If you’re in the front row, you’re practically sitting in the restaurant!

You mentioned it’s one of your few excursions up north. What led to that decision.
It’s the adopted northerner coming out in me. I think having lived here long enough, I began to think in the 1990s that maybe I could risk writing a northern voice. I was very conscious of being a southerner in a northerner’s world, although all the northern dramatists had moved south to live in places like Weybridge by then!
It’s a play which wouldn’t work if set in Surrey; there’s a northern philosophy to it, particularly in the parents who are so dismissive of things they don’t think are particularly important. They’re sharp and quite funny. There can be a sort of brusqueness and temperament in the north that when you come up from the south can give you quite a shock. Brutal honesty we call it in the south, but I think it’s rather nice.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

Westport Country Playhouse interview (2008)

Question: J B Priestley credits J W Dunne's theory of time as a major influence in his work - Dunne's theories in turn have influenced Huxley and T S Eliot - have you also been influenced by Dunne or is your reference to Priestley (as an influence on your work in Time of My Life) structural as opposed to theoretical?
Alan Ayckbourn: Certainly not theoretical. I observed Priestley's experiments with time in plays like Time And The Conways, I Have Been Here Before etc. but of course time is only one of the elements at the disposal of a dramatist - how you use it is intensely personal and relies on self-experimentation to find out how best it works for you.

In many ways Time of My Life appears to be composite/mosaic of marriage - is your intent to demonstrate the 'stages' of marriage?
No, my intention was to perceive a single moment in life - in this case where the characters are apparently very happy. I then proceed to look at that moment through the eyes of the three pairs of protagonists. One pair remaining for two hours in the present; one pair proceeding two years into the future and one pair receding two months into the past. We are then able to perceive that moment from their different viewpoints.

How do you feel your background as an actor-director-professor has influenced the direction your work has taken (or your vision)?
Not as a professor (I don't know what professors do actually) but as an actor / director quite a lot in that the physicality of theatre intrigues me. I'm not much of a one for theory.

"Time is just one colour in a playwright's palette" - what else comprises your palette?
Place, character, structure, dialogue, what you include and, more importantly, what you leave out.

Do you have your own theory of time? (for instance Dunne postulates that past-present-future all happen simultaneously but human beings experience this in a linear form)?
I believe the past is unalterable; the future is fluid but the most important place to be is the present which few of us manage. We are either looking forward in hope or back with regret.

As an admitted restaurant eavesdropper: are there other admissions to share that have led to plays?
In my head I record all my relationships. Most of them I conveniently forget about, only to be amazed when I am reminded by those involved that they have resurfaced in plays.

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