Invisible Friends: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"There is a joke, which I think I may have started, that I'm rewriting all my adult plays for kids. This is gentler. You don't send the little girl stark raving mad.... I'm also trying to retain as much as possible the colours that I put into the adult plays. That is, I would like them to try a little - not too much - I would like them to laugh, of course, and to be excited, and to be afraid, but not so they can't sleep. My ulterior motive is to excite the children into coming back when they're 25, so we haven't got another lost generation saying: 'the theatre is something I don't understand.'"
(Daily Telegraph, 17 November 1989)

"I wanted to write entertaining, intelligent plays that children would like, that would give them a full range of emotional experiences. It wouldn't be just a lot of custard being poured over each other (although I'm a huge Laurel and Hardy fan and I think custard is great!). I want plays to be a bit frightening, a bit sad, a bit everything - all things adult. I used to write about one play a year until I began with these children's plays, which are beginning to occupy me more and more. Now, very careful scheduling is allowing me to write two plays a year - a family play and an adult play. It's liberating to work in a different form, and this children's work is affecting my adult work, which is very interesting. Writing for kids makes you feel a bit more daring - you can depart from the curse of realism. I've started to float away a bit - as in
Body Language and in Wildest Dreams - and I hope the adults will come with me."
(The Hull Journal, 1990)

"We were doing the odd children's show before that [
Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays], but they always seemed a bit gungey to me. You threw your brain out of the window to do them. And I was watching some of the kids coming to the adult drama, sitting through pretty heavy stuff. I thought, what's the big deal with kid's drama? Perhaps the plays have to be fractionally shorter, and I think you don't want to leave the children emotionally scarred - but otherwise it's probably much nearer to adult drama than I thought it was. Which I suppose is a bit like discovering the wheel really, after writing for so long!...
"I call it
Woman In Mind for children. Then in Callisto 5 the little boy has only a robot for company. That was my Henceforward... for children. The running joke is that I'm rewriting all my canon for children - but I don't think it's quite got to that stage....
"A lot of my plays are about people who attempt to find alternative existences outside their real lives. Because their real lives are so boring or so sad....
"Children's plays are about the basics. And a lot of my adult plays these days, when you boil them down a bit, are about the basics - about good and evil. In
Man of the Moment you have evil meeting good. I've met people who are positive, good, life-asserting people who enliven and lift the people around them, and bad people, who do the reverse. It's often denied, but I do believe there is a spiritual tide that runs both ways. So I'm exploring that and going back to basics - in several senses....
"I think in a way, without false modesty, that writing for children requires truly phenomenal experience. You have to do everything you do for adults, only you have to do it slightly better. Adults will give you about five minutes. They say, 'Well, it's a bit slow, but it'll probably warm up.' Children will give you quarter of a second. Then they say 'Boring!' and turn round to talk to the person behind. It's a very good, refresher course in writing drama. You can get a bit sloppy writing for adults because you can get away with a lot. I think children's drama needs to be respectableised a bit, done by a few of our top dramatists."
(The Independent, 6 March 1991)

"You have to be responsible and try to say something positive, whereas in adult plays you can be a bit more despairing and finish up on a negative.... They [certain aspects of children's theatre] assume that the only things that will attract children are the very very loud and the very very crude, mostly in terms of wide slapstick. Children can take fear, they can take excitement, they can take tension, they can take sorrow. They can take Bambi's mother dying. One hopes that the spectrum of emotion isn't filtered out....
"I've been slowly moving towards a much more graphic narrative style and the plays have got much bigger in their field, much darker, and more fantastic. And for fantastic, read childlike."
(Evening Standard, 8 March 1991)

"I've finally overcome my bout of children's theatre phobia. Of course, it's a marvellous opportunity to write for an audience you know will instinctively understand all the things you never dared write for adults. For years, I've nervously avoided writing for children. I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because I'm not awfully good with them."
(Sunday Express, 10 March 1991)

Invisible Friends in the end is probably just as serious as Woman In Mind. I suppose, the moral I have, when writing a children's show, is don't shut the door on them in terms of options because it seems to me that if one has any faith in the human race, it is just conceivable that the next generation may solve the problems that we and our predecessors have singularly failed to solve."
(Interview, 1992)

"Lucy has a family but she is very lonely and she feels alienated. I had an invisible friend when I was young, quite a lot of people I know did at some point, and they were real and very annoying for parents. They had to lay an extra place at table and had to acknowledge that Tim - that was my friend - that Tim was sitting there. It's not a rare phenomenon. But it's also interesting that that particular play,
Invisible Friends, as somebody pointed out, is a child's version of a play of mine called Woman in Mind, which is a much grimmer piece but nevertheless not a million miles away in theme. In both cases, they show the dangers of living your fantasy life at the expense of your real life and how you can get into some sort of trouble by confusing the two. In Lucy's time, it became a moral fable about trying to love the people you live with, rather than the people you invent. Like how the most awful brother can be all right in the end."
(Personal correspondence, 1999)

"We had a magic vase in
Invisible Friends that appeared to move across the table on its own. It was incredible and very well done. Our master carpenter built this wonderful device. No one could see how it worked. Everybody after the show, because it was in the round, would crawl around trying to find out how it was done. To no avail. In the show, the vase would be sitting there on the table and suddenly it would move apparently of its own volition. Or rather when a character was told to concentrate on it and will it to move. At the end, the audience were asked to make the vase to move. You could see the kids who were sort of going 'nah, this is stupid' but concentrated despite themselves, sort of giving it the benefit of the doubt. When suddenly the thing moved, you could see them going 'Oh, my God! Maybe I did make it move.'"
(Personal correspondence, 1999)

"I think I write from the adult's perspective. I don’t try to become a child. I try and imagine what I as a child would have enjoyed and what my children would have enjoyed. I think initially I did write consciously for children but I hardly do that now, providing I feel the theme is right for them. I obviously make certain adjustments. I don't write things that I think would not interest them, like sexual politics - particularly for the young ones, you know, that's just baffling. On the whole, I've discovered that children have the same needs from theatre as adults. You just have to be careful how you deal with them. They like to be frightened; they like to be excited, they don't just want to laugh, any more than adults just want to laugh. I think these days I write entirely from my own perspective but just bring out the child in me - it's difficult to explain. The worst thing I could do, which I'm very afraid of, would be to patronise children.... lower myself to them. I think that it is better to write above them than below them, so that they have to reach a little. I think they will do that."
(Personal correspondence, 1999)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn