Taking Steps: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"I have a library of ideas which I regularly drag out when I am confronted with a vacuum. Like this time. Taking Steps is an idea I've been approaching and retreating from for the past three or four plays, waiting for the moment when I wanted to do something light. This time I thought, right, let's get rid of it!."
(Unknown publication, September 1979)

Taking Steps is] me in cheerful vein. I wrote it as a humble tribute to Ben Travers. I'm rather superstitious and produce my plays only in winter and spring. This time I decided to try a jolly autumn one for a change."
(Unknown publication, October 1979)

"I took an enormous breath when I wrote Taking Steps - it was a tussle hence the late delivery of the script. I hadn't written a farce for a long time and by God, they're hard work."
(Personal correspondence, 4 October 1979)

"The only time I fell down on the job was over
Taking Steps [it was more than a week into rehearsals before he finished writing the play]. Farce is the most difficult thing of all to write because it has to be a riot from beginning to end. I was a couple of days late with it this year and strayed into my rehearsal period. So perhaps I'm drying up."
(In Britain, May 1980)

"I think it's much harder to write pure farce.
Taking Steps, for instance, was a pig to finish."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 7 June 1988)

"The irony here is that
Bedroom Farce is not strictly farce - but Taking Steps is genuinely a farce. It was agony to write. In the first act you take the audience by the hand and lead them across the floor. In the second you start to walk them up to the wall. And in the third act you begin to walk them on the ceiling, so they end up hanging upside down saying "Hey, what am I doing?" It's all sleight of hand.
Taking Steps is peculiarly, of all my work, a round play. When it was done before [in London] at the Lyric... Well, when the curtain came down on the first act, on the first night, my wife burst into tears. Not a good sign. On the proscenium stage it had lost all its charm."
(The Times, 22 March 2010)

"It had a rather unhappy London run in a conventional proscenium theatre that didn't last very long and he [Sam Walters, Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre, where Alan revived the play in 2010] knew this rankled with me - it was the one that got away."
(Surrey Comet, 22 March 2010)

"This is certainly my most round play, and it didn't work when it was proscenium. It was during a period when my plays were automatically transferring straight from Scarborough to the West End, no questions asked, so this was just another one of them. It hit the brick wall of proscenium straight away, and I don't think any of us realised just how 'roundified' it was. It depends, for its essential joke, on the floor. Unlike, say,
How The Other Half Loves, which also relies to a certain extent on the floor, this one almost entirely depends on the scenic device of the floor to tell the story. So, if you cannot see the floor, you're in trouble. Of course, in the average proscenium arch, unless you sit in the circle of the upper circle, not in the stalls, where most of the critics sit and most of the expensive people sit, you cannot see the floor at all. So, what they did with this production, by compromise, was to try and build sort of symbolic staircases. And Alan Tagg, who was one of the great designers, really had his work cut out for him."
(Taking Steps programme, Orange Tree Theatre 2010)

"When you get to
Taking Steps, I was looking to write a farce, that was the first thing. I had a story which I thought was quite fun. And I had a situation, originally, that I thought was quite fun, about a man whose wife had left him a note and she's the only one who can read it. That was the germ of it. Then out of that came Tristram and his little speech. I was also exploring the running gags, which go all the way through. It was one of the hardest plays ever to write. The floors came reasonably late. I thought I still needed something visual for this play, something that keeps the audiences' eyes open as well as their ears. I remember casting my mind back to How the Other Half Loves and saying, "I can't use that." But then I came to think of the three floors, which I did think had a great potential. I needed it, it came out of a demand. I needed a bedroom for Kitty, I needed a bedroom for Rowland. I thought I can't get all these damned things on this stage, there's no room. I can't build floors because this theatre in the round wouldn't take them. So then I said, "Good God!" And then I thought, "Oh, to hell with it, they couldn't follow this." Then I thought of How the Other Half Loves, and the audience do follow things provided you present them logically. So the first ten minutes of Taking Steps has to do with telling people the geography of the house. I made sure a man went up to the attic with a suitcase and came down again, he talked, and then he went downstairs. And by the end, where Elizabeth is jumping on the ceiling and the men are standing physically right next to her, plaster from above falls down on them. The audience laughs although the whole thing is a nonsense. This required the group to be extremely intelligent, and what is encouraging is that they're a bit like children. The less you insult their intelligence the more intelligent audiences tend to become. They can take in quite boggling concepts occasionally. If you stood in the foyer and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to explain tonight that we're going to be doing some three floors and you have to imagine -" they would probably turn around and put their tickets in and say, "This is too intelligent for me. I want to go somewhere quiet with a drink." But having got in there and having been presented with it, they're very happy to play with the concept."
(Alan Ayckbourn: A Casebook, 1991, Garland Publishing)

"It didn’t get the best airing in London [the original London production in 1980]. That production, I think, best illustrated all the pitfalls there are to the piece. It does need to be kept terribly believable. The card house progression of the plot relies on the most delicate balance and the steadiest of hands. This, hopefully, concentrates an audience’s mind to such an extent that it fails to notice when we start building increasingly improbable extensions to the plot. Above all, it’s a very innocent piece. Especially Tristram and Kitty. They must never, never get knowing."
(Alan Ayckbourn personal correspondence)

"The basis of the play. Innocence as opposed to corruption in the sense of the pursuance of one's own self-interest. You have Tristram and Kitty at the centre who are gentle, non-self interest seeking people who remain throughout the play totally innocent.
It's as if they don't speak the same language as the other characters and the others, to a certain extent, don't understand them. It's perhaps no accident that Kitty is the only person who knows what Tristram is really talking about.
For the rest of the characters, they are merely living on the level they normally live at. Neither Crabbe nor Bainbridge would dream of going into the Post Office to buy a stamp without trying to negotiate a better price for it. If subsequently either of them could sell that same stamp to an old age pensioner at the back of the queue for a profit, they would do so. If asked, neither of then would consider this immoral either. Merely business. Crabbe is, of course, the bigger fish, if you'll pardon the pun and has a natural contempt for Bainbridge not particularly because Bainbridge is quite evidently trying to swindle him, which he expects but because he is assuming that he, Crabbe, is stupid enough not to realise it. Bainbridge's aim is to sell a white elephant in an appalling condition at the highest possible price.
Crabbe's aim is to purchase a white elephant for nothing, have it done up for virtually nothing and presumably at a later date, sell it at a vast profit.
All this is totally clear, I feel, providing the actors do not make the mistake of imbuing either Crabbe or Bainbridge with pleasant, sunny dispositions. They are deeply unpleasant men at root.
While I'm on the subject, Elizabeth is likewise a deeply unpleasant woman. At the end of the play, she gets precisely what she deserves as does Mark who never for a second, like his sister, considers anyone but himself. They are, in the end, as self-seeking as Crabbe and Bainbridge. It is no accident that all four remain trapped inside the dark mansion whilst Kitty and Tristram escape to the sunlight. It is to be hoped that the house will eventually fall on them all."
(Alan Ayckbourn personal correspondence)

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn