Consuming Passions: Interview with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview between Simon Murgatroyd and Alan Ayckbourn took place on 24 February 2016.

Simon Murgatroyd: Your new play for 2016 is called Consuming Passions?
Alan Ayckbourn: What I really wanted to do was to bring lunchtime shows back to the restaurant - or the Bistro as it is now. Consuming Passions is a play whose two acts can be performed individually in the Bistro and by the end of the season, they will come together as a single piece and play in The McCarthy. It is a double bill though - much like The Revengers' Comedies Pt. I & II - and the acts are sequential; although you can - if you like your stories told backwards - see them in any order.

What is Consuming Passions about?
I’m describing Consuming Passions as slightly Hitchcockian with a touch of The Twilight Zone. It’s a little bit of a thriller in which you don’t know whether the protagonist is mad or not. A woman overhears a murder plot, but has she really overheard a murder plot or is she fantasising about it? Because it may or may not have happened yet.

With Consuming Passions two Acts being produced separately in The Bistro at the SJT, will the play take advantage of the restaurant setting?
It was written with the Bistro in mind and it takes place in two restaurants. It reintroduces two of my favourite restaurant characters with Aggi and Dinka from Time Of My Life - the very jolly waiter and the rather bad tempered one. Ristorante Calvinu raises up from the ashes once again!

Question & Answer With Alan Ayckbourn (29 June 2016)

Consuming Passions is your first full-length piece written with the intention of being performed in a restaurant, why is that?
When I ran this theatre years ago, we carried on the tradition of lunchtime shows in the restaurant from our previous home. There are people who say 'theatre is not for me', so we opened the lunchtime shows in a non-theatrical situation in the bar or the bistro to encourage people to come in and watch in a more informal setting. I didn’t want it to be a totally different experience from the theatre though, so it was sort of the same but just slightly more informal - in that there weren’t reserved seats and you could have a pie and a pint - but it was still closely related to what we were doing in the main house.
That, for some reason, fell into disrepute and Chris Monks - my successor - in his wisdom decided that he didn’t want to do them in the restaurant as it was distracting - the whole point was it’s distracting! - and the principle was obviously lost in translation. He moved them up to The McCarthy, which was a totally different experience, and whereas you might wander into the theatre and get a glass of shandy and a pie to see something in the restaurant, going up into a theatre space where you’re only allowed plastic glasses and you’re suddenly sitting in a darkened auditorium watching a play, was a much more formal experience and not really conducive to a lunchtime audience.
So I wrote
Consuming Passions partly following my experiment a couple of years ago with Farcicals, which brought theatre back into the restaurant. These are restaurant plays, set in restaurants to be performed in restaurant-type spaces.

What can you tell us about the Consuming Passions?
It’s a play in two parts and you really do need to see them in the right order. I call it my Hitchcockian phase. It’s a sort of comedy, yet it’s a thriller with a 'did she, didn't she?' plot. It’s got a lot of the Hitchcock motifs: the ice blonde at the centre who has murderous intentions, the hapless lover etc. It’s obviously set in restaurants, which is fortunate as it’s being played in the bistro!
I revisited one of my old haunts, the Ristorante Calvinu with two of the same waiters. The Ristorante Calvinu* was, of course, featured in
Time Of My Life and is an ethnic restaurant, vaguely everything from Turkish to Spanish - with a vague heritage of dishes, most of which were coloured blue I remember! That’s the first half. The second half is very, very posh and we’re in the bar area of a Mayfair restaurant with an Etonian waiter. Very different.

*The restaurant in
Time Of My Life is actually named the Essa de Calvi; although Alan intended both restaurants to be the same, this does make sense as Essa de Calvi is specifically located in the north of England whilst Ristorante Calvinu is specifically located in Clapham.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.