Whenever: Interview with Alan Ayckbourn

This page contains extracts from a 2018 interview with Alan Ayckbourn about Whenever.

Why include the theme of time travel as the main situation of the play?
Alan Ayckbourn:
I have written a great deal of science fiction over my career, both for adults and younger audiences, too numerous to list here. Time travel is and always has been an important strand of science fiction writing right back to H G Wells.

Do you see the events of the play resulting from the actions of human curiosity, or that of human selfishness?
Both. For one uncle it is a genuine quest for scientific advancement, for the other an opportunity to further his own ends.

When Emily continually runs away from variations of Lucas and Charity through time, are the consequences of catastrophic events on human evolution intentional, or are these side-lined to focus on the life of the heroine?
The piece can work on various levels. Yes, she is fleeing forwards in time. We see the social changes which have occurred from Victorian times through the 20th century and then through into far the distant future. In doing so we also observe the social progress made by women and, more broadly, first the rise and then the decline of mankind in general. It is also, more slyly, the retelling of The Wizard of Oz tale, with the heroine meeting first the scarecrow, then the tin man, the cowardly lion and finally the wizard herself

What were the audience meant to learn from this play? Though classified as a 'family' play, does it offer a universal message on the effects of technological advances/time travel?
It is intended as a cautionary tale, in the way most science fiction is. “As you sow, so shall ye reap. We are creatures of free will. Our civilisation lives or dies as a result of the future paths we choose. Never truer than now!

Is the stunted language of Char Tee intended to show the results of time travel, in escaping the past, and its affectation of human extinction?
It’s a prediction that language as we know it, certainly the language of literature, will surely decline as our personal vocabularies grow smaller and as we communicate ever more tersely with increased abbreviation and the proliferation of machine code and ‘textspeak’ and ‘emoticons’.

How do you feel introducing these themes in a musical has affected their reception, and the play’s reception overall?
I thought it interesting to feature such inherently serious issues into a musical, unusual at the time and still quite rare today. An audience for a musical is never usually encouraged to take in the words. After all it’s the music they’ve come to hear and spectacle to look at. I guess some of the audience weren’t quite ready for something pitched at this level and some of them may have found it a bit “heavy”. But so long as a few of them took something away with them to think about, I’m happy. After all, what’s more important than the future of humanity? Unlike in Whenever, none of us gets a second chance.

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