Mr Whatnot: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

Mr Whatnot started by using common jargon from other media and transposing it into a theatre setting, something I’ve done quite a lot.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

Mr Whatnot was very much the first tribute to all those films I'd seen in childhood, right from René Clair's French surreal pieces that dared to depart from Hollywood realism. They were completely surreal and I thought: "This is wonderful, it goes from one level to another without even explaining it." I love this ability to leap out of the real into the surreal. I wanted to write that in a play, so in Mr Whatnot there is a tea-party, which turns into World War One. They're throwing exploding rock-buns. It's really quite bizarre to put it mildly.”
(Unrecorded publication)

"You get to the stage when it's sometimes difficult to convince yourself that the plot is, in fact, going to get over to the audience. The reactions of the cast at early rehearsals often give a guide to the ultimate degree of success of a play but even they find themselves becoming more and more unconvinced as the weeks go by. Fortunately, when the play is performed in front of an audience everything turns out all right."
(The Times, 20 November 1967)

"There were some real tigers prowling around then [when
Mr Whatnot opened in London]. Levin was in full swing, Shulman at his most venomous. I went to bed for two days after their reviews and seriously thought of going back to acting and directing. Now I look at the returns rather than the reviews, but I'm still painfully sensitive to criticism."
(The Times, 27 July 1985)

"My first play there [London] was
Mr Whatnot. The reviews were absolutely horrible without exception. I went to bed for three days I was so upset. It was silly. So I never read reviews or I read them much later. I listen to the audience."
(The Stage, 31 October 2002)

"That was a sort of St Valentine’s Day Massacre. I mean, everyone had their machine guns out, and quite rightly as it turned out! That was the case of a play growing out of a small regional concept and being presented vastly overblown in a West End context. It was like a grossly-over-dressed Christmas tree that fell over.
"I went back to the drawing board. A few weeks after that debacle, I had vowed never to write another play; but dear Stephen Joseph came and told me to have another go and try to write ‘a well made play’. And I was at an age then when I thought I was cutting-edge - a great young experimental dramatist. But I sat down and over a few nights wrote
Relatively Speaking."
(Oxford Times, 4 February 2010)

"I think, in retrospect,
Mr Whatnot was a charming piece done in the round in Stoke. It was a team of actors who’d worked together for a long time and joined in the spirit of it and it then got the West End treatment, which was to echo through the rest of my life. In the West End, it was over-produced. It had a very starry cast, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Stevens, Marie Law, Judy Campbell and all the right ingredients, but it just didn’t add up. And what is more, it was funny when we did it in Stoke."
(Interview with Alan Yentob, 2011)

"It [Mr Whatnot] was an unmitigated disaster [in the West End]. But the object lesson I learned was that something charming and lovely worked out for a stage in Stoke-on-Trent - with a group of actors you knew intimately and had directed yourself - can all be lost in the opening of a West End show where it became horrendously twee and pretty."
(The Guardian, 28 March 2014)

"It [the reaction to the London production] felt like getting 25 poison pen letters at once saying why didn't I go back to where I had come from."
(Paul Allen, Grinning At The Edge)

“I always think of the
Whatnot theme as being the Id figure who bounds along, the one inside me that would like to up-end and destroy - not destroy gratuitously, just to up-end - and confuse a little, upset status quos.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“My instructions to the actors were that they really shouldn’t have noticed he [Mint] hadn’t spoken. I didn’t want to make a great issue of him being a silent man, but it seemed to me that silence in a character creates a richness of its own.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“It was, significantly, the first play I wrote for myself as a director. It was when I was going through my ‘If-I-can’t-show-myself-off-as-an-actor-I’ll-show-myself-off-as-a-director’ phase.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“The universal lambasting it got from the London critics sent me scurrying for cover to the BBC where I became a Leeds-based radio drama producer for five years.”
(‘Ayckbourn At 50’ souvenir programme)

“It was… my most successful play to date. It became a very, very successful production, in its Stoke form, and was the first original, major smash we had there.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn