Miss Yesterday: Interview With Alan Ayckbourn

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn by Charles Hutchinson was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 3 December 2004. It is the only substantive interview Alan Ayckbourn gave with regards to his play Improbable Fiction.

Time For Tomorrow

Miss Yesterday is a "serious comedy" about Tammy, a teenager with a problem: herself. Bottom of her class and constantly in trouble, she is the despair of her teachers and her wealthy, successful parents. A chance meeting with a stranger appears to change everything. A woman offers Tammy the opportunity to go back 24 hours, back to this time yesterday, to try to put matters right. Charles Hutchinson travels through time in Scarborough with writer-director Alan Ayckbourn.

Charles Hutchinson: Sum up Miss Yesterday, Alan.
Alan Ayckbourn:
Life in your teens, as Tammy discovers, can be tough, unfair, even cruel. So when she gets the chance to change recent events in her life, she grabs the opportunity, but in the end she finds that altering the world around you is only really possible if you first change yourself. This is a serious comedy for young people facing up to the problems which most of their adult counterparts have long since ducked or avoided!

Your play has uncanny timing, in the wake of Prince Charles's comments about teenage aspirations and child-centred education. Spooky!
It's funny that it's starting at the time of the Prince Charles brouhaha, and I thought 'how lucky for us'. Though it doesn't touch directly on the theme of his private memo, the play does say 'strive to reach your potential'.

Did you have teenage troubles or difficulties reaching your goals?
I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do from early on, but plenty of people don't and spend their life thinking they will come across something one day that they're good at. The strongest message of this play is to have faith in yourself. Tammy's brother tells her, 'You must keep a grip on what you know you can do'. When we're very young, say five or six, we think the sky's the limit, and it's only that troubled age, ten years later, when we think, 'Oh no, it's not how I thought it would be'. The reality is that as a teenager, you're adult but you're not grown up."

Theatre has to compete with so many forms of hi-tech entertainment, but your family shows make great play of a magical ingredient that costs nothing: imagination.
Theatre is still magical, even though there's a lot more for children to be entertained by than when I was a child, when our entertainment was a black-and-white TV in the corner, which we rarely watched. Theatre has that appeal of being a live show created in front of you: look, no strings."

Your past family shows have featured the adventures of younger children. In Miss Yesterday, a teenager takes centre stage.
I have progressed as I have written for this audience. I've deepened and broadened it from quite a simple storybook where nothing much happened but for a bit of danger and always with a safety net. More recently I've been fascinated to see how far I can push it, and as long as you give them characters to associate with or identify with, they're not worried about getting the jokes. They want to be involved and sometimes they want to be moved, and that's what theatre has over other art forms. I wanted to move beyond writing children's characters, even though they were interesting. When you get to the teens, you have a larger emotional base to draw upon. Tammy is a troubled girl, a vulnerable rebel. Very dangerous!"

You like using time travel in your family shows. Why?
It's not the main driver of Miss Yesterday but it's a device that allows you to make a point and it adds that 'what if' element to the play. There is that thing of audiences in the Christmas season being more open to suspending disbelief, and this is a season with a feeling of magic, and of course it's the season of darkness too. Underneath all the commercial magic of Christmas, there is the magic of children's expectations."

Copyright: Charles Hutchinson