Mr Whatnot: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play Mr Whatnot by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"[Mr Whatnot] marks a major step forward as the first play by Alan Ayckbourn with no part for himself as an actor but a virtuosos role for him as a director.... The title role also reflects Ayckbourn's admiration of the great silent film comedians, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, but the almost obsessional interest in the effects achieved through sound also remind us that Ayckbourn was a schoolboy fan of radio comedies, especially The Goon Show."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide To Alan Ayckbourn's Plays, 2004, Faber)

"The first play to have a life beyond Scarborough was Mr Whatnot in 1963, premiered in Stoke-on-Trent and then disastrously revived in London, whose critics almost destroyed the budding playwright. This [Mr Whatnot] was more of a vehicle for Alan as a director and maker of effects, since the leading character is a mute; his story is told via the reactions of a wedding party at a stately home and the sound effects that went with it; a riot in Stoke where a young company threw itself into mimicking its elders and betters, it fizzled out when played by an elderly star company in London."
(Paul Allen, Royal & Derngate's Ayckbourn At 70 souvenir programme)

"[Mr Whatnot] was, and is, an audacious piece of work: an attempt to translate the techniques of silent-screen comedy to the theatre. Its inspiration is clearly that of early Chaplin and the Tati of Monsieur-Hulot's Holiday. But what is fascinating is that it combines a miming hero with the kind of cartoon dialogue you expect to find in elongated strip-bubbles and a full battery of sound-effects. The constant peril of mime in the theatre is that it is abstracted from narrative and becomes a display of pure technique.... But Ayckbourn avoids mimsy-whimsy by placing his hero in a precise situation and by celebrating straight-forward physical lust."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1980, Palgrave)

"[Mr Whatnot] is not only a tribute to tumescent anarchy. It also reminds us that for the most part dramatists make scant use of the varied language of theatre. Ayckbourn is here trying to stretch and flex our imaginations so that we conjure up ferocious, five-feet tall dogs, insistently clicking billiard balls, a chase through the English countryside, a couple of young lovers gingerly picking their way across a ploughed field. Simply because it uses the standard country-house setting, it is foolish to overlook the fact that Mr Whatnot is actually a rather bold and adventurous play."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1980, Palgrave)

"After some conventional early plays, Ayckbourn came up in 1964 with a highly original piece called Mr Whatnot: a play that pitched a silent piano-tuner into a country house, and drew on the techniques of early Chaplin and Jacques Tati long before ‘visual’ and ‘physical‘ theatre became specialised ghettos."
(Michael Billington: State Of The Nation, 2007, Faber)

"[The character Mr Whatnot] is an extraordinary invention. He is wild, absurd, anarchic and irreverent. He would be at home in
The Goon Show and has many of the touching qualities of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.... His vulnerability and his madcap solutions to [these] situations are at once logical and hilariously preposterous. In all of this, Mint is both understandable and endearing. We are offered no explanation as to who he is or why he is as he is, and certainly he is at odds with the previous environment of the stately home. It is his dramatic function to create havoc, because he is a misfit, a stranger with no evil intent, who undermines the social situation he finds himself in. It is a plot line which we will see developed many times in the course of Ayckbourn's subsequent writing."
(Michael Holt: Alan Ayckbourn, 1999, Northcote House)

"The chaos caused by the dumb [mute] man [Mr Whatnot]... an impossible clown enlightened by absolute good sense, in the complete family, symbol of a stable society, caused the audience to feel an exhilaration as though they had a glimpse of a new freedom. The play made a pointing gesture in the direction of anarchy.... Dismiss the play as trivial by all means, but give it credit for showing at least some people a mission of possible human behaviour; far more worthwhile than a dozen of your serious dramas or poetic tragedies."
(Stephen Joseph: Theatre In The Round, 1967, Barrie & Rockliffe)

Mr Whatnot, Ayckbourn's first effort as author-director - and conceivably no-one else will ever direct it as inventively - is silent-film comedy brought to the stage."
(Albert E. Kalson: Laughter In The Darkness, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"Strong traces of Chaplin and the Marx Brothers are clearly evident [in
Mr Whatnot]: the movement is at a clockwork pace, often completely abstract yet humanely pathetic, interesting and always hilarious. There is never any doubt that a complete knowledge of stagecraft on the part of Ayckbourn makes everything click."
(Sidney Howard White: Alan Ayckbourn, 1984, Twayne Publishers)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.