Advocates: Sir Peter Hall (1930 - 2017)

Sir Peter Hall CBE was a hugely influential figure in British theatre during the 20th century. He founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, was Artistic Director of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988 and Artistic Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera from 1984 - 1990. He was a renowned director in theatre and opera. Alan Ayckbourn regarded him as one of 'guardian uncles' and Peter was a key supporter in Alan's development. He first invited Alan to direct at the National Theatre and was responsible for Alan becoming a company director at the National Theatre between 1986 and 1988.


"I don’t believe any of Alan’s comedies would have any basis or any work if they didn’t have the human heart at the base of them. All comedy is basically serious. I think Alan is a very serious man, an extremely haunted man. Most of his plays are about loneliness, inability of human beings to communicate with one another, the cruelty that results in that lack of understanding and, of course, they are about the sex war between man and woman. He’s not politically committed like many of his generation are in any sense, except he’s politically committed - I think - to the anguish, the impossibility of finding any political solution. I would think he’s firmly in the middle. In pain. I think he’s terribly unhappy in his plays underneath all that laughter."

"I think his inspiration comes from the theatre. He will be seen in the line of Wilde or Pinero of Maughan, of Coward and to some extent, I think, Harold Pinter will too. I think Pinter and Ayckbourn are much closer than anybody at the moment feels. They’re both consummate stylists, they both use words extremely precisely. They both deal with irony and understatement to make extremely explosive statements. They both have an extraordinary ear for idiosyncratic and expressive nature of demotic speech. They’re both also funny."

"I think Alan’s only crime with the critics is he’s written 31 plays and they’ve been very successful. Alan needs to write a play each year, Shakespeare needed to write a play a year. When he’s dead, then he’ll come into his own - I’m sorry. But just as Coward did. Coward was derided in the ‘20s and ‘30s, once he’d stopped being a bright young man as being old Coward and now its boring old Ayckbourn."

"I think that now the writing is moving into a new period where the comedy itself contains the serious meaning and there’s a synthesis of that in
A Chorus Of Disapproval; I thought that was a wonderful balance between wanting to say something very serious but actually never letting the audience off the hook with laughter. If he’s capable of doing that, one can only say 'thank God we’ve got one major comic writer.'"

"If people want to know about life in England in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, they will need to study his [Alan Ayckbourn's] plays. He is a profoundly moral writer and I think he had reached a new synthesis between the comec and the serious - the painfully funny."

"There's nothing sadder than playing uproarious comedy. To play Ayckbourn properly, you have to dig deep, be serious and then get laughed at."

"He has an acute social sense of what it was like to live in England in the last half of the 20th century. And for that, as much as any dramatist, he is required reading."

A Chorus Of Approval (1999)
In 1999, the Stephen Joseph Theatre held a special event to mark Alan Ayckbourn's 60th birthday. This was accompanied by a publication including tributes from some of the people he has worked with. This is a complete transcript of the contribution.

"Without the persistent strain of melancholy (a melancholy, moreover, which can subvert the greatest romantic joy or the heartiest bursts of laughter) you might be thought just a brilliant boulevard dramatist, all be it an extraordinary prolific one.

"Because of the sadness in you and, I suspect, the compassion, you are much much more. I won't call you the English Chekhov because you are the English Ayckbourn. But please accept the league I am putting you in.

"You are a great realist and your seriousness in considering people has always justified the comic. The most extreme emotion is finally ridiculous, the highest transports of desire are comically embarrassing. Your laughter is not facetious: it is based on recognition and compassion. It can hurt, but there is no denying its accuracy.

"I reckon that you have the greatest gift for exposition in drama. Your dialogue is precise and economical. And although it looks very 'real' (because you have a very accurate ear for middle-class speech) you transcend accuracy to make something very rhythmic and controlled that can hold the audience in an iron grip.

"If, in a hundred years, anyone wants to know what it was like to live in the second half of the 20th Century, I am quite sure they will turn to the plays of Alan Ayckbourn before they look at historians or sociologists. End-of-millennium- man is very accurately atomised in your plays.

"Thank you for giving us so much joy and, with that joy, your perception. Happy Birthday, Alan."
Copyright: Peter Hall. All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd, please credit this website if reproduced.