Suburban Strains: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"I find that in a pure musical you have greater horizons on which to explore. You can use flashbacks and a cinematic technique. You begin with a small idea and suddenly new, additional ones impound on the others, pleading to take part in the complete work.
"There are more scene-changes than I have ever planned for one show in my life."
(Yorkshire Post, 15 January 1980)

"I had an idea for a musical, then Paul [Todd] 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 for 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."
(Scarborough Evening News, January 1980)

"Suburban Strains was, for us, an enormous task and it was exciting to see it work on that first night. I think it challenged us all - not least Lavinia [Bertram] who rose above it all I felt, quite magnificently."
(Personal correspondence, 26 January 1980)

"The great British musical is a mythical beast. What I set out to do with
Suburban Strains was widen my scope by introducing music. Its allowed an opening up process."
(Unknown publication, 1980)

"It is the story of a teacher and I tell her story on two levels, simultaneously. It is, in fact, in her mind really. The actual time is at the point when she has just collapsed, when her husband's left, and we tell the story from the point of view when she first meets her husband but, at the same time, we tell her parallel story when she is meeting her lover. So the two stories develop together, and we hop about and sometimes coincide those stories; and what is marvellous is that we found that it worked, even within the terms of a musical, which I think, traditionally, has been kept simple, with a very simple plot. I think that thanks to Sondheim, people are gradually getting out of that terrible tradition. But as a musical,
Suburban Strains is terribly complex. We have the actual time and past time mingling on stage, and the nice thing was the amazingly quick way an audience grasped it. As individuals I can quite understand them gathering it but as an entity I'm always amazed that the group intelligence manages to take it, that they take hold of this quite complicated concept which is much more difficult to explain. If I sat in a bar and tried to explain it to people they would say, 'Oh no,' but actually sitting there in a theatre, they are able not only to grasp this but to enjoy it and to anticipate it, which is marvellous. But that is pure liveness - I don't know what you'd do with it on television - you can't cut and cross-cut that would be so boring - but on the stage it is fluid."
(Unknown publication, 31 October 1980)

"It's really a musical play. More
Teeth 'n' Smiles than Oklahoma! I've found that Paul Todd's music actually helps me as a playwright; it's given me that necessary kick beyond naturalism. You have an equivalent of the soliloquy, no need for a boring old drunk scene to make characters say what they feel. If you suddenly bring in a shaft of music from somewhere, they can actually play the subtext. Generally the English prefer to hint round the truth, which is fun and leads to a lot of comedy, but for me it's been very interesting to find this other dimension."
(The Times, 4 February 1981)

"Caroline, the central character, has been hanging around me a long time. I'm very fond of her: lovely, silly, quirky girl. It's the first time I've ever created a star part, who carries the play and makes us see the events - her relationships - through her eyes. She's 32 and a teacher, more or less untroubled by a personal life, and then along comes this actor who's young and fun and a total opposite. When the relationship breaks up, she says 'I've got the balance all wrong, I was too dominating, now I'll be feminine.' But her next man is a big mistake... There's a lot of me in her. Trying to give what you hope will be the right reaction, which quite often it isn't - not far from a total inferiority complex. Yes, she means a lot to me."
(The Times, 4 February 1981)

"John Hallé designed it, he was a very clever designer. One time I was so late with the script that he had already designed the set, so I wrote
Suburban Strains for the set! He said, 'I’ve solved it, you told me what’s it’s about and how it’s going to work. So how do two concentric circles work for you? Twin revolves.' I said, 'yeah that’ll work. I’ll be able to fit that.' I was really into shooting myself in the foot then, designing plays with sets that could never be repeated really.'
(Interview with Simon Murgatroyd, 2 March 2017)

"Paul [Todd] and I had been experimenting with song writing…, but this was our first full blown musical. If it had failings, they were largely due to the demands we made on everyone. I needed wonderful actors to cope with my book and lyrics - and Paul’s music was technically very difficult. Compromises occurred and we never really solved the problem of playing in the round with a live rock band."
(‘Ayckbourn At 50’ souvenir programme)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn