Invisible Friends: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Invisible Friends (Stephen Joseph Theatre 1989 production programme note)
I looked over a garden wall and there in this back yard was a very small boy sitting in a very large cardboard box. He wore an expression of intense concentration of someone midway through a mysterious and wonderful imagining. He saw me and scowled.
I felt I should say something.
"Hallo. That's nice car you've got there," I said in that jaunty, patronising way adults do to children in the midst of private games. The boy stared at me scornfully but didn't speak. I tried again.
"Or is it a boat? Is that what that is? A big boat?"
Silence and faint incredulity. "A plane? Is it a plane?"
Open contempt now. I gave up.
"What's that you're sitting in, then? Aren't you going to tell me?"
The child considered for a moment, obviously assessing my mental capacity, before replying: "It's a cardboard box."
I've started writing for children again, something I've nervously avoided for years. I'm not quite sure why. As you can see, I'm not awfully good with children.
Not that Invisible Friends is strictly a children's play. It's actually intended to entertain that most difficult creature of all, the family audience. Though it's geared for the younger element - seven and upwards - there are levels which I hope will be enjoyed by their parents and grandparents. But then I suppose in the end most good children's work - books or plays - achieve this, so maybe all I'm doing is setting out with the best intentions.
For it does seem to me that theatre, any theatre, can only be enriched when the audience ages are thoroughly mixed. 100% of any single age group is often far less rewarding to play to than an audience of mixed pensioners and infants. Ask any actor. One of my favourite images during the run of Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays last Christmas was the sight of this auditorium crammed with small children and, sitting right in the midst of them all, an elderly couple having the time of their second childhoods. More adults to children's shows, I say; more children to adult shows, too.
The picture of a family all together, sharing the same experience together - all perhaps with a different perception but nonetheless each enjoying the other's enjoyment - can be as rewarding a sight as anything I know.
Actually, I think I do know why I've started writing for children again. It's to attract the adults as well.
Alan Ayckbourn's introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 2
It was 1988 when I decided, in an effort to build up a regular children's Christmas audience at the theatre in Scarborough, that I would have another shot at a Christmas Play. A year later, encouraged by the success of Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (a help-decide-the-plot, audience participation sort of show), I wrote Invisible Friends. It has been described as a younger version of my earlier play, Woman in Mind. It relies, like a lot of my children's work, upon a good deal of direct narration, this time from young Lucy who gets fed up with her own family and retreats into a fantasy world of her own. As in the adult play, her dreams appear not only to be coming true but rapidly turning into nightmares. Unlike its adult counterpart, though, it has a moral (anything's possible if you put your mind to it) and a far happier ending.
I have no hard and fast code when I write for my young audience except a determination to make sure the play opens doors of possibility and doesn't merely close them.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.