Alan Ayckbourn : subverting the form
In this thesis, I argue that plays written by Alan Ayckbourn during the period 1970 to 1990 are political and subversive. They are political in the sense that they offer an analysis of political and social constructions then current, taking an oppositional standpoint. They are subversive in that they do this using an adaptation of a form not usually associated with such analysis and for an audience not already politicised. Ayckbourn is frequently taken to be a farceur. I will argue that he uses some aspects of British farce, but that his adaptation of the form subverts the expectations of his predominantly middle-class audience. Rather than the two-dimensional, essentially unsympathetic characters and the reinforcement of the status quo usually found in farce, Ayckbourn's plays offer political analysis in the private sphere and promote an oppositional agenda in the public sphere. While it is recognised by some that Ayckbourn was indeed a political commentator during this period, there has been no substantial account of what I suggest is their specific agenda in the public sphere - namely, the promotion of collectivism in direct opposition to the ideology embraced by Margaret Thatcher. During the 70s and then under Conservative governments post-1979, the tenets of what was to become known as Thatcherism, frequently centring upon the supposed supremacy of the individual, came to dominate British public life. Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, declared herself openly against collectivism, disempowering the unions, establishing a major programme of privatisation that involved selling off previously State-owned assets such as the utilities, the railway network and social housing, and denying the very existence of society. Ayckbourn's plays of this period expose the solipsism that is the corollary of this anti-collectivist agenda, the moral bankruptcy of the selfishness it encourages and the dangers of a political system that actively sets itself against working together for the greater good of all. At the same time, many acknowledge that Ayckbourn writes about women in a particularly sympathetic way, reflecting the raised consciousness brought about through second-wave feminism. I shall argue that these plays not only demonstrate ways in which expectations of gender performance impact upon women, but also show pressures upon men to perform masculinities. The plays exhibit a complex picture of gender performance, frequently in settings that present a liminal arena between feminine or masculine associated spaces: the domestic garden of the middle-class suburbs. In this, they examine cross-gender conflicts in representations of situations familiar to the very audience by whom the plays are received.