The Square Cat: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"The first play I wrote was called The Square Cat. I've destroyed every copy. It was written by me, for me. It was a very daring farce, that I wouldn't dare to do today."*
(Sunday Star-Ledger, 22 April 1979)

"I stomped off home and, with the help of my then wife, who was a very judicious editor, wrote a play under a joint pseudonym, Roland Allen. This was the time of skiffle and coffee bars and the play was an unashamed launch for my own acting career. I came on in act one and stayed on, with all the best lines, until the end, and I danced and sang and played the guitar - none of which I was very good at. It was an immensely practical way to start. I learned a great deal from seeing the same bits die every night."
(Sunday Times, 1 June 1986)

"I knew I had to write a play that brought in an audience and entertained them; but, at the same time, I was aware I was writing for my fellow actors, all of whom had given up more lucrative jobs to work at Stephen's theatre, and who didn't want to be involved in complete and utter rubbish."
(Unknown publication, 2005)

“He [Stephen Joseph] said to me: "If you want a better part, you'd better write one for yourself. Write a play, I'll do it. If it's any good." And I said: "Fine." And he said: "Write yourself a main part" - which was actually a very shrewd remark, because presumably, if the play had not worked at all, there was no way I as an actor was going to risk my neck in it. So at least I had to have reasonable confidence in it. It was during that first tour [with the Studio Theatre Ltd company], and it was in the digs on the tour that I wrote
The Square Cat. It was untypical of me in that firstly, it was written over quite a long period, and secondly, it was written with a great deal of help from Christine [Christine Roland, Alan’s first wife] structurally, not dialogue-wise. She was very helpful. We talked out: "What if ... ? What if ... ? What if ... ? How about trying it this way round?" And it was very much an exercise, in the sense that we were trying to get effects.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“It was about a family - it sounds terribly banal - about a husband, his wife, his son and his daughter. The mother has got an obsession with a pop singer. She's fallen in love with him from a distance, thinks he's wonderful and swooney. She therefore rents a house in the country - (a little Anouilh coming out there: there were a lot of definite influences in this play. In fact it's
Dinner With The Family, I now realise!) - in order to invite the pop singer down for a marvellous weekend with her. And she was going to pretend to be someone totally different; have no family, and be a rich woman - she'd arranged it all. The family, having got wise to this, followed her down.
“I don't quite know why he [the pop singer] comes, but anyway he agrees to come, we find out later. The family has followed her down and is not going to let mother get away as easily as that. They say: 'All right, let him come.' She's very cross and says: 'No, you've spoiled the whole thing.' He turns up - that's me - and of course he's not at all the glittering figure of the silver screen, but shy and bespectacled and wanting a quiet time - and this he thought was it. And he's horrified to see that mother is a sort of elderly groupie. The family roars with merriment saying: 'Look, you see, look at your hero. He's really nothing very much.' At which point he bounds out and comes back again in glitter costume, twanging his guitar, saying: 'OK, this is war' - or words to that effect (I can't remember much of the plot). He gets together with the daughter eventually, and romance blossoms there. Mother finds the error of her ways and goes back to her husband. Jerry Wattis finds true love with the simple girl, and all fades into the sunset. I don't think it was very good as a play, looking back on it, but it was OK for a first one. It's not one that one would ever want to see done again.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“It was my first appearance on stage in a play of my own. Unashamedly (and rather foolishly) I had given myself the lion's share of everything. From my first entrance at the end of Act One till the final curtain line at the end of Act Three quite apart from singing, dancing and playing the guitar - none of which I could do - I had all the laugh lines and got the girl. Well, two of them actually. I made £47 in royalties. The most money I'd ever made in my life.”
(‘Ayckbourn at 50’ souvenir programme)

“I did actually set myself as an actor an impossible task, yes. I did originally play a guitar, and sing a song, and dance - none of which I do at all well. A bloke called Donny taught me about five chords, in order that I could sing
I Gave My Love A Cherry, which seemed a nice, extremely boring, morose song which goes on for ages. But even that I used to have very great difficulty with. I used to sing it on some … but on other nights, I would nod vaguely in the direction of the lighting box and they'd take the lights out rather swiftly; so I would just play one open chord - sploing - and the lights would go. And other nights I would sing, excruciatingly, I Gave My Love A Cherry to a rather flat guitar, because I hadn't actually learnt to tune it.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“It was farce. I think it comes under the term farce, because there was a lot of leaping about and mistaken identities in it. It was certainly as broad as I got for quite some time. It was curious, because I didn't sit down to write anything particularly, except a play. I'd been writing before that, but they'd never had the test of production, and most of them, with a couple of exceptions which had been rather morose pieces, had been comic in tone.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

“It was funny and it was what was needed here [Scarborough]. It wasn’t that I sat down and consciously thought about it this way but that I do tend instinctively to respond to a market. Due to the encouragement of Stephen [Joseph] I’ve always had audiences if not uppermost then at least prominent in my mind. I would never dream of writing a play unless I considered what the audience might or might not enjoy at some stage. I might then decide to baffle them or push it a bit beyond them but I would always have them in the frame. It sounds like something everybody would do but I think there are writers who don’t, for better or worse, consider the audience at all; they are much more concerned with what’s happening at the end.”
(Paul Allen, ‘Grinning at the Edge’)

“I don't know what it did in terms of percentage: it made me forty-seven quid, I remember, more than I earned in several weeks. It proved very popular because it was what it was - a farce, with no pretensions to anything else - and it did give people quite a laugh. And I think Stephen did recognise, if nothing else, that he'd found a writer who, nurtured a little, could possibly keep his box office afloat.”
(Ian Watson, ‘Conversations With Ayckbourn’)

"The first play I wrote for the company [Studio Theatre Ltd at the Library Theatre, Scarborough] was a farce called
The Square Cat in which I played the lead. Determined to shine, I had written myself a role in which I played the guitar, sang and danced. I could do none of these things but the gods were looking kindly upon me and the play, surprisingly, was a success."
(Personal correspondence, 1980)

"It [The Square Cat] was a silly thing about a girl who fell in love with a pop star and went off with him to the horror of her family. But whereas a lot of plays by young writers are gloomy things complaining how your mother wrecked your life, this did have the advantage of being a comedy."
(The Guardian, 29 March 2014)

"I remember when my first play [
The Square Cat] was produced, I went to Stephen Joseph and asked what my budget was for the production and I was told £5, which meant I had to go out and borrow any furniture I wanted.:
(Down Your Way, November 2014)

“I’m trying to destroy all copies [of the play].”*
(Michael Coveney, ‘Plays and Players’, September 1975)

*Despite his stated intention of destroying all copies of the play, several original manuscripts do exist and are held by the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York, the British Library and the University of Manchester and Alan Ayckbourn.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn