Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn''Every five-year-old these days seems to be able to write a computer programme, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to them. In fact, I'm just hoping that it won't be beneath them.
"The cast are excited and appalled by it. It is a bit of a nightmare for them.... I don't see why children's entertainment should be unnecessarily bland, and loud, and vigorous. I remember in my own childhood crying through Bambi - and then being scared by the witch in Snow White. Of course. I'm not saying that I want to scare the hell out of children - but young people's theatre should be more than people falling on banana skins."
(Scarborough Evening News, 1988)
“It’s a computer game on wheels really. In one sense. It’s a house that the heroine and her dog go into to look for something in the usual sort of Quest. The difference being that they can choose any number of rooms to go through, and there are about 16 different routes they can use in about 25 rooms, most of which they will never visit in one showing. Children will join in. They will suggest, and I’ve said very specifically to the actors - for goodness sake, if they make a suggestion, if they add something to it, you’re going to have to take it on board; you can’t just walk away from that sort of audience or they’ll just scream louder. And we also make it quite difficult for them, because as the route goes on, we ask them to remember how to get back, which is virtually impossible; no adult can do it, and quite interestingly, the kids can. But at the same time, I’ve tried to give them a sort of, you know, multi-coloured experience. There are moments of sadness. There are moments of tension; we frighten them a little and we also, I hope, make them laugh. And we’re asking children of five to nine to sit there for 45 minutes. I think the ones I’ve seen so far here - it’s a foreign experience and they’re quite surprised as this play does when it invites them to make decisions and choices which actually affect the action genuinely. And really what I’m doing, I suppose, is carrying on the crusade I do with my adult plays, is to stress the liveliness and the excitement and the spontaneity of live theatre, as opposed to the other arts.”
(Kaleidoscope, BBC Radio, 13 December 1988)
"They [children] sat quite happily watching them [Ayckbourn's 'adult' plays], a little germ began to form in my mind. I began to see that you don't have to throw your brain out of the window when you write for children. You just use a different set of muscles. More and more parents began to bring children to my adult plays and often they enjoyed them more than the adults did. So I realised you could still write about issues for a younger audience. What I aim to do is write something that I would like to have seen when I was a child myself. The basic ingredients are the same as for adults: character, story-line, and making sure the "And then ...?" factor is there. But you've just got to do it better, otherwise the kids turn round and start talking. The biggest enemy for them is boredom....
"I want people to realise that live theatre can offer a choice. I try and leave the door open in my children's plays: I have this naive hope that children might have a solution to things locked inside them. So I try to say that anything is possible - within reason of course....
"At the time I was interested in how you can play around with sound. So I decided I wanted to write about some kind of mad sound engineer. That was the starting point for Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays."
"What I wanted to do with this particular play - in my crusading role - was to tell children a bit about theatre. Even with the most closely scripted, tightly plotted play there is still an incredible degree of flexibility which is the result of the particular set of people watching it. So here I've said, 'just to show you there's nothing up my sleeve, we will do something that can't be rigged. We will ask you to choose which way we go in the second half.' And nobody knows what happens, so to that extent it's both scarifying and quite fun to rehearse."
(Unknown publication, 1993)
"I start my plays at a speed which I hope is fast enough for the audience to say 'Whoops - I'd better watch this.' If you're late in a kid's play of mine you've missed about 15 minutes of exposition told in about a minute....
"One of the things I've been toying with in my adult plays is giving the audiences choices over the way the story proceeds - that is, emphasising the liveness of theatre; that what they were watching wasn't a film or video but infinitely variable....
"It's [Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays] a classic search. And, the audience can choose which way they go - through secret panels, up ladders, inside chimneys. The actors have no idea because the narrator is turning to the kids and saying 'Which way?' It's always exciting, sometimes hair-raising."
(The Independent, 10 February 1993)
"Getting them [Suzie and Neville searching Mr Accousticus's House] in is one thing. Then you've got to get them out. One of the things I didn't know was, would the kids remember which way they went? The actors never did. They'd look at the narrators, and the narrators would look at the kids, and every single time the kids knew, and got them out. To a certain extent it's guided, but nonetheless, when we start, none of the actors has any idea of what we're going to do. That's very frightening, but it's also very exciting....
"One's perception of children's theatre was something very noisy, relentlessly jolly and jokey, and continually loud. It seemed to me that one could write a version of what one would write for adults, something that would have a whole range of colours and tastes in, that could be frightening, scary or sad, all the things I remember from things I saw when I was a kid....
"I tried it [writing plays for children] rather abortively in the early '60s, but I think you have to be quite experienced to write for kids. Attention span is much shorter, and you need to get them pretty early. You also have to address yourself to the basic rules of playwriting rather strenuously. Narrative is terribly important. They've got to want to know what happens next. But the nice thing about writing for kids is that you know they will take that willing imaginative jump with you, providing you ask them to trust you, and providing you keep their trust. Adults will too, but they've spent years growing up, and stopped playing, really."
(What's On, 24 February 1993)
"It's fair enough to leave adults in a dark cupboard; they can find their way out, but I have this touching faith that if you say to a group of children 'this can't be done', they might believe you, when there might be a potential Einstein out there who will find the path to the stars."
(The Guardian, 2 March 1993)
"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)
"Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays came about because I wanted children to be aware of theatre, about how live it is, about what made it for me more exciting than television or the movies. So I wrote a play in which the audience's input was very obviously needed. They had to choose which way the girl and her dog went. I said, 'Look, kids, you can change this play just by your vote. And remember the route you have chosen because the girl and her dog have to return the way they came. You are going to have to tell us which way that was. Which they always did - extraordinary. Adults could never do it but the kids could do it in one. Their participation made for a very live experience."
(Personal correspondence, 1999)
"There aren't a lot of us seriously writing for children either. When the National Theatre asked me to do Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays there, they gave me half the budget for it. I said, 'Why am I only getting half the money?', and they said, 'Well, it's a children's show.' And I said, 'Well, you need twice the money. Come on, we want as least as much money because we are going to do everything that we would do for adults. Only they just happen to be children.' But it's the same production values, the same quality acting, the best we can do, we can't spend half the money on it. So they said, 'Yes, we see your point.' And we got the full budget. But there was a moment when children, just because they were shorter, they got half the money."
(Personal correspondence, 1999)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn