Intimate Exchanges: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"When this company had done its last performance of Way Upstream, in Houston in America, most of the company were so exhausted by America that they all wanted a rest, except Lavinia and Robin who were quite happy to carry on. It came to me that here was the opportunity, without putting anybody out of work, to do my two-hander that I'd always wanted to do. Here were two actors I'd worked with for years and years, two people who would actually trust me, and I could trust them, to do a play of an enormous nature. Sisterly Feelings was a play in which there were alternative scenes in the middle but that was a small scale version of what I really wanted to do, which was a play which developed from one tiny little moment - whether a woman decides to smoke a cigarette or not - into two separate second scenes, four choices of third scene, eight choices of fourth and sixteen choices of fifth scene. To do that hair-raising amount of material and ask two people to do it, to learn the equivalent of half the bible, required an enormous act of faith. If I'd carried that round the West End in a suitcase, which is what the scripts would have needed, I don't think anybody would necessarily have bought it.
"With the 16 endings I've been fascinated by choice. The fact from the little one's said about one's own life that apparently it's all been totally accidental. I didn't know Stephen Joseph from Adam. I just knew there was a job going in Scarborough, when I was chiefly concerned about my little props cupboard while working in rep in Leatherhead. And when he was ill and dying and I was a bit rudderless, I joined the BBC entirely by accident, to find myself sent to Leeds and into the lap of another remarkable man Alfred Bradley. He was very special and incredibly into new work, and there was I rolling around like a marble. If I'd rattled the other way, what would have happened? From the tiny choice about the cigarette in
Intimate Exchanges we go into bigger choices until at the end we're talking about birth, death and marriage. The idea came and so the choice thing happened."
(Marxism Today, March 1983)

"Intimate Exchanges is, hopefully, a project that grows on you. And grows. And grows…. You will appreciate that working on a canvas this size - with nearly 30 hours of drama - it was my intention that the characters should continually unfurl and spring, just occasionally, the odd surprise. I hope they'll always remain the same, in that they're true to themselves always, but will nonetheless develop as new pressures or situations present themselves."
(Personal correspondence, 1 July 1982)

"Although there are a number of variations performed every year I don't think anyone has ever done all eight plays [since the original production]....
"The female character makes a decision in the first few lines of the play and from that two quite different scenes develop. The play is about those tiny decisions we all make in our lives that lead to bigger consequences. It's a huge concept and is very difficult as there are just two actors playing a total of 10 roles. All the characters are very different and it is a feat of memory for the actors to learn about 16 to 17 hours worth of dialogue. After a production like this you don't have a nerve in your body because it can't get any worse!
"I think it contains some of my finest writing, There are some nice gags and I did get an odd smile from myself when reading through the script, which is rare."
(Scarborough Evening News, 4 January 2006)

"The play is really about a woman making the tiniest choice, but out of that comes these endings when people die, get married or have children and all as a result of this tiny ripple effect....
"I thought it might be (re-staged) but I knew it would only be by me. They've been done in ones and twos but that's a bit boring. Why do one
Norman Conquest when you've got three? We've got 16 endings here and I've only seen some of them once....
"I described it as a celebration of acting when we first did it and Lavinia [Bertram] replied 'I think it's more of an orgy'."
(Northern Echo, 10 March 2007)

"They all finish with a certain dying fall, except for a couple that go up in mood. In general, the point is that we do have free will and we can choose, but we can't change unless we make a huge effort. Only Sylvie makes a big change; she's the one who changes the most. If you don't change, you just end up in the same place. How many men do we know who end up marrying the same woman again and again! At the end of their lives, people who have unsuccessful relationships will say weren't they unlucky in love but maybe they were impossible to live with. Anyone who would marry Lionel Hepplewick in
Intimate Exchanges must be mad!"
(The Press, 23 March 2007)

"I think it's all to do with the liveness of theatre really. I mean obviously when one's directing or acting you talk about what happened off stage and what happened immediately before I came on. And then 'what would happen if...' obviously comes into it. And I think theatrically, and in life, I've always been fascinated by what appear to be completely random decisions being made by people - which lead to a whole chain of quite definite circumstances. I mean what if I hadn't met so-and-so in the pub? Would I have not joined the BBC - you know, which is in fact what happened to me - so I was five years with the BBC. Completely arbitrarily, because I think I almost dialled the wrong number, you know. And now it seems to me that my life has been like that, and I'm sure a lot of people's are. So that fascinated me and I think also there was another question with actors saying that one of the problems actors have I think, night after night, is generating energy, and so I've tried in things like
Intimate Exchanges and Sisterly Feelings to keep them nervous which in fact is the same thing as keeping energy and adrenalin from a first night, which blazes through you, disappears after about three weeks and is never regained. But I try and make every night a first night."
(Interview with Paul Allen on BBC Radio 4)

"I think
Intimate Exchanges was a tremendous exercise in nostalgia for me. It's a complete Laurie Lee of a play. Most of the characters are drawn from my childhood and it's set around my prep school. Toby and Celia are images of my old headmaster and his wife.
"I felt each character had a choice of destiny through it, that's all. None of them behaves inconsistently within that, but things happen to them in one story that couldn't happen in another. You can't cross over once you're set on a course.... What the play explores, I suppose, are the options open and the great element of chance - how, by meeting different people, we are affected (and affect them) in different ways."
(Interview from Conversation With Ayckbourn, by Ian Watson)

“After the trials and tribulations of getting half-drowned in
Way Upstream in Texas most of the company were desperate for a rest and a change of dry clothing. I found myself with a company of two - but two who just happened to be the most experienced. Lavinia [Bertram] and Robin [Herford]. An opportunity, I felt, to re-explore my Variable Theatre experiments - but this time in greater depth than I’d dare do in Sisterly Feelings. It was a fascinating and very rewarding experience which I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Between them, they memorised thirty scenes, eleven different characters and sixteen or so hours of dialogue. I described it rather pompously as a Festival of the Art of Acting. Lavinia described it as an orgy. At any rate it did introduce two more Scarborough stalwarts to the West End. Lavinia got an Olivier Award nomination for Best Comedy Performance and the play a Best Comedy nomination. Robin was later nominated for a Sony Award when the plays were recorded for the BBC World Service. None of us, alas, won.”
(‘Ayckbourn At 50’ souvenir programme)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn.

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