The Karaoke Theatre Company: Interviews

This section contains interviews with Alan Ayckbourn about The Karaoke Theatre Company. Click on the links in the right-hand column below to go to the relevant interview.

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn is transcribed from a Question & Answer session with the playwright, hosted by his Archivist Simon Murgatroyd, on 29 June 2016.

Questions & Answers with Alan Ayckbourn

Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

The Karaoke Theatre Company (2016)
Front Row (2016)
What can you tell us about The Karaoke Theatre Company?
It was destined in the schedule to be play number 80, but it seemed a bit invidious having your 80th play produced! I thought what should I do? Should I write something incredibly serious and grave, some state of the nation piece or should I just write a really jolly comedy? And I thought, “Well, either of those leads to problems. For if the jolly comedy didn’t work and the grave one was off beam, they probably wouldn’t be a success.' So I decided to do something which I have dreamt about for a long time and it followed on from my passion for live theatre, which is what I've been involved in all my live. I’ve eschewed the offers of film and television and other media, always finding that, in the end, all my best ideas, were for theatre. So why bother to write your worst ideas! So I decided, in the end, to do a party. I thought what better way than for the actors and audience to sort of meet.

What has the reaction been like during rehearsals?
Our new Chief Executive, Steve Freeman, came in yesterday and at the end he said, “what was lovely was it started with the actors doing their stuff and the audience sitting there wondering what this was all about. Then they starting to lean in and then, by the end of it, they’d taken over the show. It was their show, the audience’s show.' Which is really what we intended. So every night it's the audience's party. That is the essence of live theatre really. Normally if you sit and watch a production you will have some effect on the performance, due to your reaction or non-reaction, but - in this case - we’ve just absolutely no idea what’s going to happen each night.

It must be quite an unusual rehearsal situation for you?
It’s complete anathema to me to have strangers in a rehearsal room because it’s a rather private, personal function between me and the actors. But in this case it’s been extraordinary. Hopefully, from the dozen or so people we’ve had in each time, it will not be too traumatic for the actors to step into the space in front of 400 people. That's going to be quite a different experience for them and no amount of preparation can prepare them, but at least they’re happy interacting with people in the audience thanks to the rehearsals, which is a big step forward. I’ve picked special sorts of actors, who I thought could do it and particularly had an element of quick fire improvisation. The show is largely scripted but there is a huge element of improvisation just depending on how the audience reacts. I’ve given the actors leeway so that if somebody ad libs - and we love those spontaneous moments - they can react appropriately. This is, for me, a tremendous departure.

How difficult is it for the actors having to interact and engage with 400 people?
I told the actors that as soon as they step into the theatre, they have to extend their welcome to the back rows. At the moment, they’re literally as close as we are but - eventually - they’re going to be 30ft away from some members of the audience, so you really have to have very open arms by the time you get to a 400 seat space. No matter what. I've said to them all along, 'You have to hit the ground running. It's BANG! and people go, 'oh, we’re in good hands.' But if you come on with 'hello', it's not going to work. It has to be 'HELLO!' There’s a difference between the two and you can sweep the audience along or you can be a little more tentative and let them slowly catch up, but if you do, you’ll have lost them for the first 15 minutes at that rate. They've got to really go for it and it is a huge energy drainer of a show for the actors.

It consists of several different pieces, were there any particular inspirations?
I pillaged my back catalogue! Anyone who knows it - my archivist Simon Murgatroyd knows it - will know I’ve pinched a sketch called Dracula which I wrote for a revue Bob Eaton put together in 1975 called What The Devil! A lot of it is forgotten Ayckbourn! The opening tennis match comes from Mr Whatnot certainly. One of the pieces I’ve flagrantly stolen from Saki, which is a rather good jokey ghost story he wrote called The Open Window, which I’ve always thought was a good story so I pinched it!

Interview by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.