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on 15 July 2005
Alan Ayckbourn's book on the art of the theater covers far more than just "playmaking" His years of experience as both author and director are evident as he gives "obvious rules" for writing, directing, establishing characters, and everthing in between.
Not only does he devote a substantial amount of space to the play writing process, but he also talks about casting, lighting, chosing a costume designer, working with your tech staff, and dealing with your actors during the various stages of the production.
All this is given, not as a dissertation, but with a genuine sense of love for his craft.
I found the examples of dialogue-taken from his own plays to illustrate the various points of writing-extremely helpful.
I will refer to this book again in my own writing endeavors.
Highly recommended.
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on 10 March 2003
Pinter, Pinter, Pinter. After a lifetime of spreading hands and shrugging shoulders whenever questioned about his work, suddenly it seems you can’t shut the guy up. He’s everywhere: a two-week season of BBC plays and documentaries, a film retrospective at the NFT… True, when it comes to analysing wordplay he’d rather talk about President Bush’s than his own, but he’s publicly engaging with his own back-catalogue like never before.
Spare a thought for Alan Ayckbourn. Author of over sixty plays and director of over two hundred, he too has been breaking new ground in British theatre for more than forty years. The difference is one of accessibility. His plays are all mainstream; commercial. They are almost all – say it quietly, people might not notice - comedies. A veteran of the workshop-and-lecture scene, he even built a special viewing-room in his theatre in Scarborough so that people could watch his rehearsals. Yet he’s never really got the critical recognition he deserves.
The Crafty Art Of Playmaking is a step-by-step account of how Ayckbourn works, from his initial concept as writer through to press night as director. Within this personal narrative, Ayckbourn peppers the prose with 101 “Obvious Rules” to consider when one comes oneself to writing or directing. The Rules are the best bit about the book – if the University Drama Society up here in Oxford were to publish them on a leaflet and distribute them to every student director in town, endless laborious evenings would be immeasurably alleviated. They range from the purely artistic considerations of No.28, concerning character-development (“People in general are reluctant to reveal themselves”), to the matter-of-fact wisdom dolled out in No. 51 – “Beware the manic-depressive costume designer”.
This combination of memoir and guide-book makes for one of the most readable, unpretentious and entertaining books about theatre there ever there was. But the parallel functions also work against each other. All of the examples Ayckbourn uses are from his own plays – perfect to demonstrate how he writes, fascinating for devotees - but counter-productive to the inexperienced playwright who has simply come for advice, and might not know Ayckbourn’s vast canon of work. Surely examples from, say, Shakespeare or Wilde would be better suited to the purpose? Similarly, fans wanting to hear detailed stories of how he arrived at his unique style of tragi-comedy in the Round will be disappointed by the regular deviation into general dictum.
That said, this book is refreshingly practical, especially for those seeking advice on directing a play (Ayckbourn dismisses the Method as “a terrible way of working”, claiming that “a sure-fire test of good acting is how well you can fake it”). It displays its author’s incredible awareness of every creative, technical and budgetary element of good theatre, from page to stage. We are left to conclude, along with the nice chap quoted in the blurb on the back, that: “What he has given to theatre is immeasurable.”
Who said that? Harold Pinter? Oh, he’s very good, isn’t he?
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2004
I was so fed up with dry, wordy books about playwriting. There are so many which just witter on about the minutiae of writing that they're actually very offputting and intimidating to a new writer. They're probably irritating to experienced writers as well because they would feel patronised and limited. I think a lot about playwriting (and directing, because that's given equal importance in this book) has to do with spontaneity. Ayckbourn allows for that, and instead of giving a formula for writing, he suggests 'obvious rules', which you can then either take on board or discard as something you already knew. He actually says in his introduction that a lot of what he will say will be familiar, and yes, some of it was, but he presents it freshly and with evidence from his own work to really bang home the essentials of making a play.
Not to mention the humour! The book has real comedy value. The anecdotes about meeting actors or lighting technicians are really witty, and made me feel less scared and daunted by the whole process of play production. It's so good to read something which makes the theatre a real, normal environment, instead of the ego factory it sometimes seems to be! And that's coming from me, an aspiring dramatist who wants to join the ego factory!
I'm really grateful to Ayckbourn for being so generous in sharing his experiences and expertise. It's not good to be stubborn that your way is the only way in writing or directing, so I recommend that anyone wanting to join the theatre in some way reads this and absorbs his advice into your career and attitude. We luvvies could all do with a bit of Ayckbourn's down-to-earth approach. Look where it got him...!
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on 7 August 2008
I am relatively new to play writing and have half a dozen or so books on the subjecton my bookshelf. The one that I refer to most often is this one.

Lets face it, we all know Ayckbourn is a top playwright, so it's a safe bet that if he is offering advice, it will have some value. I can honestly say that IMO this book is value for money. I refer to it often, and whilst the section on directing is not of any enormous use to me at the moment, the rest of the book certainly is worth the money in itself.

If you are relatively new to writing then I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you are already proficient, I have no doubt that you will still find some useful stuff inside.
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on 15 December 2012
This book is essentially in two parts - one from the writer's perspective, and the other from the director's. It is a really good, accessible read for anyone interested in penning the next theatrical masterpiece. As an Amateur Dramatics enthusiast I laughed at a lot of the anecdotes from Alan Aykbourn's past. In summary, a really good starting point for anyone looking to write their first play, or even improve on the last one.
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on 12 August 2013
Alan Ayckbourn is a jack of all trades in the theatre and a well crafted playwright. I loved this book as it was easy to read, not too much to take in as the book isn't huge and it just gives you practical tips and explanations of how he crafts his plays starting with a simple idea and then building on it. He also talks about plays from a directors point of view which is useful.
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on 6 October 2011
I was hoping for some guidance with my writing and as Ayckbourn, in my opinion, is one of the kings of comedy writing, I thought it might be useful. It's in two acts - the first leading aspiring writers through the writing process and the second navigating how to direct a play. It's straightforward, honest and engaging. Thoroughly recommended!
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on 12 September 2010
I had less interest, at least for the time being, in the 'Directing' chapters of the book, but found the 'Writing' section to be very entertaining and useful reading for any aspiring playwright. The advice and experience imparted in this part of the book was the principal reason for my purchase. Being a burgeoning playwright myself (yes I know, how very annoying of many people have said that before now?) I'm currently in the throws of teaching myself the craft and any sound knowledge I can glean from my more world-weary and successful counterparts, the better. This book, on these terms, is a most welcome addition to my bedroom 'university' library.

May also be of interest to Ayckbourn fans in general, as it gives a glimpse into the great man's working practices and thought processes. I bought a second copy of the book to give away as a present to an Ayckbourn fan friend, just for these reasons.
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on 21 September 2011
A fine book by the Master, detailing many valuable hints and tips on playwriting. The book is divided into two sections: Writing the Play, and Directing it.

If you're serious about theatre, this book is one you will refer back to.

If you can truly absorb the information, you will learn.
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on 27 March 2015
Really good, easy to understand information on the inspiration and writing process. However, he tends to focus on his own plays, which is fine but would be nice to have some other examples as well.
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