Advocates: Penelope Wilton

Dame Penelope Wilton DBE is an Olivier award-winning actress on stage and screen who worked with Alan in both the West End and at the National Theatre. Born in Scarborough, she played Annie in the London premiere of The Norman Conquests and Abigail in Sisterly Feelings at the National Theatre.


"There are very few who can do both - write and direct. Writers don’t always direct their own work terribly well. There are some that do, Harold Pinter was extremely good at directing his own plays and an admirer of Alan Ayckbourn’s."

"People recognise themselves in Alan’s plays. He understands the British and the middle classes’ pomposity and vulnerability, the way they try to keep up appearances. His plays don’t do great big emotions, but he writes about the small things that can change a life.

"I first worked with him on
The Norman Conquests in 1974. Like all his plays, it started in Scarborough. The producer figured three plays wouldn’t work in the West End - they all have their own story, but they show a single weekend in different rooms of a country house. So we did it in Greenwich with a wonderful cast: Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendal. One day someone literally rolled in the aisles. A man fell out of his seat because he knew what was happening in the other rooms in the other plays. It’s a wonderful thing to hear laughter that’s uncontrollable. Alan’s plays always seem much more serious on television. They’re best watched with other people.

"He’s made British theatre a much livelier place. He’s always doing interesting things with time on stage - I did
Sisterly Feelings and that’s two plays in one. He understands isolation particularly well. Look at Woman in Mind, where you’re watching a woman having a nervous breakdown. He notices people that aren’t being noticed.

"I come from Scarborough, and I’d say the Stephen Joseph theatre there has been one of his greatest successes. He kept it going for years. Scarborough’s busy in the summer, but most of the year it’s not and he’s brought such a lot of wonderful work - not just his own - to that part of the world. He never stops."

Copyright: Penelope Wilton. All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd, please credit this website if reproduced.