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A middling review for a middling book
on 6 May 2003
I appreciate that Ayckbourn is (according to his own publicists) the most performed living playwright in the world and thus he is entitled to some extent to offer us his pearls of wisdom, but I have strong reservations about this book:
There must be a few hundred books on the subject of how to write, and I certainly haven`t read them all, but Ayckbourn`s is the only one I`m aware of in which absolutely every example quoted is from his own work. There are no references to other playwrights (I think Shakespeare gets a mention somewhere, but that`s all) and there are certainly no acknowledgements of any other influences or sources of inspiration. I can`t help but think that not only is this conceit on a huge scale but it also limits the usefulness of the book.
Let`s face it, his work is entertaining and amusing and could even be considered thought provoking if all you ever read is the Daily Mail, but it`s not, and never will be, great Art. Fine. Not everyone wants to produce something truly great, and the reviewer from Oxford who wishes students would at least learn Ayckbourn`s golden rules has a point - but only up to a point. The tips Ayckbourn gives in this book include some useful practical points about structure and narrative but the whole book is ultimately limited by the author`s own parochialism, which is always the sense I get from his work anyway. Most of what he says is pretty obvious, some of it`s interesting, and that`s about the best you can say. Learning what this book sets out to teach you might prevent you from writing a truly bad play, but it won`t help you write a truly great one.
But then, perhaps that`s the point.....