A Brief History Of Women: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

This page features a transcription of a speech Alan Ayckbourn gave about A Brief History of Women for the launch of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's summer season on 15 February 2017.

“It’s a play about a man - it’s a bit autobiographical - who’s fairly ineffectual. His life has been radically changed by a series of women. Women have been an enormous influence on my life - from my mad mother onwards through two wives, one - bless her - still with me and all the other women in between, the actors and so on that I’ve met. I’ve never really had a really close male friend; I’m just not one of those sort of people that sits in a bar and talks about V8 engines and who’s going to win the cup.

"I was at a very posh party once with a very smart producer called Chris Morahan for all the great and good writers and actors and their spouses. We had a big garden party and I was suddenly aware that I was the only solitary man sitting amongst all the women with all their children running around. All the playwright men were standing there saying, ‘Well I’m only on 4%,’ ‘Well, I’m on 5%.’ Let’s talk about some really interesting things that you really want to write about! So women have been a big feature in my life.

“The play starts in 1925 and it’s an interesting year with the first Labour government; so there’s a lot of old buffers going ‘Oh my God, the country’s doomed. And not only have women got the vote, but we’re going to hell in a hand-cart.'

"Through the decades it goes on and it’s a play about a house too. It starts as a lovely manor, which is beautiful and it takes us through the ages. Twenty years later, it’s a very seedy prep school for girls with our hero now a prep school master - bearing quite a lot of resemblance to my early prep school. Then we move to the sixties when it becomes an arts centre, which is also run-down and under-heated and the amateurs are rehearsing their pantomime; it has an incident with a pantomime cow. It finishes as a terrible muzak ridden Trusthouse Forte type country house hotel with our hero, by then, the manager in his seventies, but slightly retired and coming back to stand in for the regular manager.

"He goes from 18 to 78 during the play, although one of the women goes from 38 to 98!

"There’s some trousers down there too! It all starts with Magnesium Magnificence - a firework supplied by one of the staff at the school. You see in 1945, I suddenly realised that fireworks displays were a bit rare and a bit difficult. I really wanted the scene to be set on Guy Fawkes night, so one of the school staff is a retired ordinance man; people brought back from the war masses of stolen stuff. The war not only bankrupted us but everyone nicked jeeps and piles of munitions and came back with something! I’ve never met anyone who was in a war, who didn’t come back with something. So this guy brings back all the munitions and makes his own fireworks including a massive rocket and one of the ingredients is magnesium which is brighter than day. Unfortunately our hero has his trousers down at a time enjoying himself with a fellow member of staff in darkness in front font of the whole school when the firework goes off."

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