Suburban Strains: Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This section contains interviews with Alan Ayckbourn regarding the play Suburban Strains.

This interview by Lynne Curry was published in the Scarborough Evening News during January 1980 when Suburban Strains had its world premiere production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round.

Those Hums In The Night

Alan Ayckbourn's lyrics, says his musical partner, are like his dialogue - so delightfully English. His colleague, co-participant in the after-midnight attic sessions of listening and humming, is Paul Todd, 28-year-old drama graduate and the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round's musical director.

Alan Ayckbourn, the playwright who revels in Scarborough and its tiny Theatre in the Round, has been called a genius, the greatest playwright living, the most prolific playwright around, and every other complimentary expression the critics could think of.

Now, after Lerner and Lowe and Rodgers and Hammerstein, there is Ayckbourn the collaborator, the better-known half of Ayckbourn and Todd. Behind them (or just about to be - it ends its run on 9 February) is the successful
Suburban Strains, a lengthy production carefully called a musical play rather than a musical, written and set to music inside a month, and still receiving rapturous reviews from national critics.

Alan Ayckbourn, whose next play will be his 26th, is not used to sharing the limelight. How did it happen? Said Alan Ayckbourn: "I had an Idea for a musical, then Paul shot a tune at me and we wrote half a lyric. Then I told him the original idea wasn't on any more, which threw him into total confusion. I remained cussedly vague. I got the story sorted out, and we thought about what we needed tor a song. Paul would go away with an idea: we need a song that says good-bye. He'd rattle away at an electric piano and return with a song."

Then came the humming sessions, with Mr Ayckbourn crouched over his tape and Mr Todd at his keyboard, musing over the theme.

Paul Todd liked the fact that here he had a lyricist with style. "It's nice to work with somebody who can really handle words. Not intending to put down other people I've worked with, but you do tend to find you get some rather strange lyrics," he said. "I think these are very English lyrics and It's nice to find all the Americanisms taken out. You don't hear your 'hey babys' and 'yeah yeahs'."

The "musical play" format appealed to Alan Ayckbourn, who found that a song enabled him to put overiIn a more overt way the feelings he wanted his characters to have. And he also found that the music acted as a "rocket launcher" for his words. But things were kept carefully In perspective. The songs were an extension of the dialogue, not a distraction from it - one was actually dropped because It was too much of a "show-stopper".

The Ayckbourn-Todd partnership began with
Men on Women on Men, which started out as a small-scale review and turned out to be a 90-minute "non-stop barrage of music". But the pair have no plans so far for another effort.

As for
Suburban Strains, Its Scarborough glory is to be short-lived. When it ends on 9 February, it will not be revived at Westwood. Musical plays are expensive, and by Theatre in the Round standards, this was no exception.

Musicians' wages, the bother of constructing a raised dais for the band, and the personal radio microphones which were turned on for the songs - all contributed to the cost. The play, say the authors, may disappear for good.
[1] The Ayckbourn-Todd partnership, however, may not.

Website Notes:
Suburban Strains was revived at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round the following year before transferring to The Round House in London for a limited season.

Copyright: Scarborough Evening News. This edited transcription and the end-notes have been compiled and researched by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.