Man of The Moment: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"I knew it [Man Of The Moment] would eventually play in tandem with Othello* but I wasn't trying to write my version of Shakespeare which might not quite stand up. Othello is a play about jealousy and the fall of a hero: my play is about the public taste for anti-heroes. I was struck by the fact that someone has made a film about Buster Edwards with Phil Collins and that we live in a world where the great train robber is a star and the poor old driver who got hit on the head and subsequently died is forgotten. The prelude to my play concerns a bank-cashier who has had a go at a gunman and enjoyed a two-day triumph as a local hero. The bank-robber meanwhile goes to jail for 12 years and when he comes out is discovered to be a media natural, his career takes off and he has a phone-in programme called Ask Vic in which he says things like 'Trust me kids, it's a mug's life, crime.' We pick him up at the point where a TV producer has a bright idea for a series called Their Paths Crossed and confronts the bank-clerk with the super-celeb in the latter's Mediterranean villa.... I suppose I am moving into the social play because there are a limited number of things you can say about man-woman politics and because I feel disturbed at the kind of world we inhabit, a murky, twilight zone where good and bad are less clearly defined."
(The Guardian, 8 August 1988)
* It was originally intended Man Of The Moment would open in repertory with Othello in the West End in 1990, but this idea was never realised.
"Man Of The Moment is quite a bleak play, about quite unpleasant things.... Man Of The Moment is about the way we make heroes of villains. My hero is the little man who has a go. But I hope to keep the laughter going: it keeps eyes open."
(The Stage, 25 August 1988)
"The bank clerk was famous for three minutes but was deeply uninteresting. The crook becomes a national hero. It is a quality of human nature going back to Jack the Ripper that we find the criminal more interesting than the victim. Good people don't make good TV. The system depends on flawed human beings....
"We could be tempting fate. This one has 36 tons of water in it. It's one thing to flood the stalls at the National but if this tank goes in Shaftesbury Avenue we could close the Northern Line....
"I think it does break new ground. You constantly feel the pressure of having to say something new in a different way. It's nice to get a new location, like abroad. It's the first time I've done that. I hope it is still a people play but it does deal with an issue, violence and our response to it. I'm usually known for writing about a lady having an unhappy life in Reading or someone having a nervous breakdown in a garage. I've come out of the domestic arena. I've begun to formulate a few opinions. Until recently I had no opinions whatsoever:"
(Evening Standard, 12 January 1990)
"Man of the Moment was obviously very much inspired by Buster Edwards and the way the public tend to be more interested in the aggressor than the victim. That was one idea. I also wanted to write about how very uninteresting goodness is. Then came the trimmings: the swimming pool which I liked as an idea and gave it a visual aspect and then a lot of other elements crept across. It was only then that the play started to add up. Then came the concept of making it a television programme so that one had a way of turning it back on the audience. I think I probably had all those ideas at separate times but none of them suggested to me a particularly interesting play until they combined."
(Writers News, September 1991)
"For Man of the Moment the idea came from a poster advertising Buster, the story of the Great Train Robbers. It's a strange quirk of nature that we are always more interested in the robbers, than the poor bloody train driver who died. He was hit on the head, and few people remember who he was, but they all remember Buster and Biggs, and they became folk heroes. All our folk heroes are criminals; Jack the Ripper, Robin Hood - he was a thug, and Dick Turpin. We'd hate them if we met them today!"
(The Haileyburian, Winter 1993)
"It [the swimming pool] was written in to say this means success to that character's wealth - he's really just a glorified small-time criminal - that sort of Villa in Majorca is the place they all sort of go. Having been there I must say it amazes me that they escape (Pentonville Prison) and put themselves behind iron gates, barricades, bigger prisons than they've run away from."
(Interview with Stacey Morley, 1997)
"After years of trying, I think I got as near as I’ve ever got in striking the balance between a play being entertaining whilst having something to say. More water on stage and only the tiniest of leaks. And it gave me great satisfaction to have a character enter swimming."
(‘Ayckbourn at 50’ souvenir programme, 1999)
"The centre of the play is really Vic, Douglas and Trudy. Put crudely, the essence of evil, the essence of good and the disciple who unwisely chose the wrong path and now belatedly seeks salvation and forgiveness.
Trudy in a sense is us. She, like we should be, is initially seduced by Vic. He's charming, amusing, charismatic - even slightly dangerous. Witness showbusiness people and celebrities often making fools of themselves associating with deadly gangsters as happened in this country with the Kray Brothers. It's human nature. A sort of human Russian roulette; so much more exciting than spending an evening with Douglas.
And of course the media amplifies and exploits this. It makes Vic twice as dangerous, three times as exciting. Because that's what most of us want to see. And equally it makes Douglas seem at least twice as boring, too. Because, ironically, 'goodness', real goodness anyway, is never good showbusiness.
Jill on the other hand is really the catalyst. Her role is to make events happen. The play really isn't about her. She is given just sufficient background and motives to inform us why she's so driven. Why she gets so frustrated. But beyond that we shouldn't have much interest in her personally. Only in the events she causes.
It was written as a result of years of giving interviews where occasionally a journalist will encourage you to exaggerate and to over-dramatise. ‘Would it be correct to say you were deeply traumatised by these events?’ ‘No, not really. Just a bit disappointed.’ But as the play says, the media needs heroes and villains, predators and victims. Even if they change tomorrow. Yesterday's Great Train Robbery villains become the loveable folk heroes of today.
As for Sharon, her role is the victim. If Jill represents the media, Sharon is the thousands of fans who are fed all this rubbish and believe it. Sharon has no voice. No means of self expression. She's trusting and open and thus, in a world like Vic's, consequently vulnerable and defenceless. She's there to further darken Vic's shadow and to highlight Vic's real wickedness. Cruelty on stage is a double-edged sword. It can sometimes titillate when it sets out to condemn. The sort of cruelty inflicted by Vic on Sharon is hard for anyone to find titillating."
(Personal correspondence, 2002)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn