Surprises: Interviews

This section contains interviews with Alan Ayckbourn about his play Surprises. Click a link in the right-hand column below to access the relevant interview.

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn about Surprises was published in the Gloucestershire Echo during 2012.

Gloucestershire Echo Interview

Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

Surprises (2012)
Gloucestershire Echo (2012)
Surprises is quite an unusual story - where did you get the idea?
Alan Ayckbourn:
I think in my case the older I get the more curious I am to know what the future holds - not just for me but for all of us. Considering the things that have happened in the seventy odd years that I have been around - computers, the internet, men in space, the social upheaval, our increased knowledge of the universe and the world around us - what I once read as science fiction as a kid has, in many cases, actually happened. In other cases what was predicted has been well wide of the mark. No time travel - not yet. No sentient, walking, talking robots - they’re coming though! No contact yet with alien civilisations - certainly no hostile Martians. I decided I’d write what I thought might happen in my children’s life-times, certainly I’m sure in my grandchildren’s. What might be probable. The main theme I wanted to address in Surprises is longevity. It’s a fact that we’re already living longer and longer. Given the current advances, how long medically will we be capable of extending human life expectancy? A hundred and twenty years? A hundred and fifty? And more importantly how desirable is that? Do we really, most of us, really want to live for ever? It also poses the key question. How long in that case can love between humans last? In the end, under all the science, they’re good old fashioned love stories. I think when the cyber dust has finally settled we’ll still have a need to be loved by someone. Even androids will, who knows?

How do you write speech for a robot - how do you imbue them with emotions - or don’t you?
My robots - or technically speaking androids (artificial beings created in human form) in Surprises are at a significant stage of their development. Initially, their speech is restricted to factual information and is generally therefore rather like that of precocious, slightly autistic children. Refreshingly direct, literal, and occasionally touchingly naïve. But as the play progresses they are being introduced to a few ‘modifications’ including the ability to tell the occasional white lie and more significantly the beginnings of early emotions - including love. Most humans growing up have trouble sorting out their emotions through their turbulent teens so what chance a poor machine, God help them!

Reading through the synopsis, the play sounds quite thought-provoking, with serious issues – how do you write in laughs with such a challenging premise?
I let the laughter arise naturally out of the seriousness of the theme and characters. I rarely if ever try to interpolate jokes. It’s the same principle I use with most of my plays. Most of them in synopsis don’t promise to be that funny. Woman has nervous breakdown as a result of an unsympathetic family (Woman in Mind). Serial drunken adulterer with personality disorder attempts to bed three separate women in the course of a weekend (The Norman Conquests) etc. etc.

What has the reaction to the play been so far?
Very favourable on the whole. Especially from the younger audiences. I think the older ones (those of my generation) occasionally have problems coming to grips with the avatars! Come on, try and keep up, guys!

Would you like to know what the future holds, given the chance? Do you think others would?
I think anyone who isn’t in the least bit curious about what the future holds is either a liar or already dead!

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