Intimate Exchanges: Character NotesThis page includes Alan's background character notes to all of the Intimate Exchanges characters - written for the world premiere production in 1982 - as well as general acting advice when tackling the plays as intended with two actors playing all the roles.
The Characters Of Intimate Exchanges
Thirty seven year old Miles is at present a senior executive with B.L.M. Electronics. Yet despite the fact that much of his working week is spent in London (not to mention commuting!), he is busily involved in numerous local activities. Following the untimely death of Dr. Grange two years ago, Miles was appointed Chairman of Bilbury Lodge Preparatory School (the youngest person to hold this post). A gifted sportsman, he is a familiar figure both on the cricket field and the squash court. His membership of the Rugby Club he stresses, is slightly more passive these days: He and his wife, Rowena, have been married for nine years and have three children, Colin (8), Sandra (7), and Timothy (4).
A familiar and enthusiastic figure at practically any local activity you care to name, the indefatigable Rowena manages a husband, three children, a dog, a cat, and innumerable "small animals", not to mention her commitment to church work, without apparently turning a hair. She is a keen amateur artist - a number of her abstract designs were displayed last year at the Pendon Festival. Before her marriage to Miles nine years ago, Rowena managed a succession of over thirty different jobs - "none of them very serious".
Josephine, following the death of her husband seven years ago, she now spends her days as “a contented professional grandmother" to the families of her three children. Besides her daughter Celia, she has an elder son Derek, a lawyer now living in Canada, and a younger son, Joey, a tree surgeon based in Inverness. Although in recent years dogged by ill health, Josephine remains addicted to her other great passion in life, bridge. She has competed in several tournaments successfully, representing her county on three occasions.
To anyone living locally, Joe hardly needs any introduction. An almost legendary figure these days, Joe's views and opinions based on nearly seventy years of quiet, shrewd observation still command respect from young and old alike. For a long time caretaker/groundsman at Bilbury Lodge School, Joe continued working right up until last year when his son, Lionel, succeeded him in the post. A widower for three years now Joe is perhaps best known for his nostalgic, wryly philosophic poetry published weekly in the Pendon Gazette. When asked to describe himself, Joe characteristically replied "Say I'm a man with his feet in the soil and his head in the clouds".
Thirty four year old Lionel was trained as a master baker, but his list of accomplishments doesn't stop there. Amongst his other skills are those of cabinet-maker, landscape gardener, mechanic and ironmonger! It is apparent that Lionel has inherited his father's own love of a challenge. As caretaker /groundsman of Bilbury Lodge School, he is content to follow in the distinguished footsteps of his father for the time being. He has, he tells us, plans for far bigger things in the future, details of which he prefers, at present, to keep under wraps. A bachelor, Lionel admits to several girlfriends, although at present he has no plans to marry until the right one comes along.
Native born Australian, Reg has lived in England for so long now he feels as English as a wet summer. Bearing in mind his country of origin, it is not surprising perhaps that Reg admits to being something of a cricket "nut". A salesman by profession for a national heating firm, he manages in summer to arrange his ports of call within throwing distance of the nearest Test ground. Reg originally came to England when his British born wife, Mercy, whom he met in Brisbane, became homesick for Berkshire. They have five children, four girls and a boy.
Sylvie is the eldest of another large family (seven). Following the death of her father five years ago, and the intermittent ill health of her mother, Sylvie till now has had most of her time filled coping with her younger brothers and sisters. Locally born, she has lived all her life so far in the village, but hopes later on to travel to one or two new places if she can. Her hobbies include cooking, music, dancing, and watching television, especially old films. Her wildest ambition is one day to fly the Atlantic single handed, but she thinks this is unlikely. She is engaged to Lionel Hepplewick but they have no plans to marry just yet.
Irene is the widow of the late Royston Pridworthy, one time Conservative M.P. and M.F.H. for the district. Since his death fifteen years ago, Irene spends her time "golfing, eating, nattering, sorting out problem cases". A member of the Bilbury Lodge School Board of Governors, she takes a keen interest in the school presenting, following the admission of girl pupils a few years ago, the woman's angle. She confesses to a strong liking for gardens, people who say what they mean, and practically anything with four legs. Her dislikes include libbers, do-gooders, knockers, "left-whinge-rs", and the BBC.
Toby at forty-four is the youthful headmaster of Bilbury Lodge School. His arrival two years ago has been reflected in a sharp improvement in school performances, particularly the sporting field. Although trained as a teacher, Toby spent some years in industry as a management consultant before being persuaded by his old friend, Miles Coombes, to give education another try. A man of strong views on practically anything you care to mention, Toby can, to strangers, often appear abrasive and at times even deliberately controversial. His reply is that it's the business of education to pose the questions, not supply the answers. Certainly amongst the pupils at any rate, he has proved one of the most popular of headmasters. He has two children, Lucy and James, by his second wife Celia, both of whom now attend the school. After hours, Toby is a well-liked and gregarious figure in the village and a familiar sight most evenings in the Dog and Pheasant.
The perfect complement to her husband's intuitive flair and forthrightness, Celia contrasts this with her own special brand of calm unflappable organisation. She combines her job as housewife and mother together with an almost breathtaking whirl of school and social activities. She serves on four committees and is Chairperson of one. Not surprisingly, she is often to be found in the role of mother confessor and big sister to the school in general, from youngest pupil right through on occasions to the staff and their wives. Before her marriage to Toby twelve years ago, Celia was employed by CONFAB, a firm engaged in organising conferences for companies up and down the country. During her time with them, she organised over five hundred of these and doesn't rule out the possibility of returning to her old job once the children are a little older.
Alan Ayckbourn's Advice On Performing Intimate Exchanges
The problem is to define each main character clearly without losing the truth. They are plays that do rely for their impact in our caring about the characters. To do that, obviously, we need to believe in them and worry about their outcome. I have seen the plays wrecked by coarse caricature. Very clever, we say, but so what?
Inevitably (or so I’ve found) because of the enormous change asked of the actors, they will find one character probably comes naturally, another is interesting but a stretch whilst the third seems downright impossible. Do not despair. Again, in my experience, it is this very character that they initially feel least at home with, who gives the most headaches who turns out to be the one they enjoy playing the most.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of copyright holder.