Playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn talks exclusively about his new play, Surprises, at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
IF you could take a peek into the future to see what the rest of your life holds, would you do it?
That is one of the questions posed by celebrated playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn in his latest play, Surprises.
The futuristic comedy comes to the Everyman in Cheltenham next week as part of its world premiere tour across the country.
Set in the near future, it tells of love stories yet to happen in a future filled with surprises. It's not Sir Alan's first foray into science fiction, but it does approach the genre in an unusual way. As he puts it himself: "It is a play with its head in the future, but with its heart in the past.
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"Surprises is essentially several love stories, but love stories that have a spin on them. It's science fiction but used as an allegory – as most good sci-fi is – to reflect what's happening today and issues I've picked up on."
By this, Sir Alan means the idea that people are living longer than ever before and that this trend looks set to continue.
Who knows what life span our children and grandchildren will have and what this will mean to the way they live their lives.
"I have a character in the play who is 120 years old and his doctor tells him if he takes good care of himself, he probably has another good 60 years," said Sir Alan.
"He's already retired twice, had several lifetimes and doesn't know what to do next.
"If we're not able to plan our lives for the long term, we are also going to be in that situation, which will pose some interesting problems."
Set, unusually these days, within a three-act structure, Surprises asks what happens to relationships when this longevity takes place.
"Most relationships are based on a life expectancy of three score years and 10, so what happens when both of you live to twice that age?" said Sir Alan.
"A lot of people find it hard to sustain a marriage at a normal length of 20, 30 or 40 years but what will happen if we're going to potentially have relationships going on for 100 years?
"Certainly some people will waiver slightly. I promised this man my life, but do I have to stay with him all that time?"
On the subject of longevity, Sir Alan is no shirker. At the age of 73, he has an impressive cv behind him, including 77 full length plays and numerous other works, screenplays and adaptations.
Perhaps most famous for such comedies as
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Absurd Person Singular, A Chorus of Disapproval and The Norman Conquests, Surprises joins this illustrious list with a vengeance.
With avatars, time travel and androids with emotions, as well as plenty of laughs, the play is well-named and has already won a chorus of approval from all quarters.
"It's been received very favourably on the whole, especially from the younger audiences," said Sir Alan. "I think the older ones – those of my generation – occasionally have problems coming to grips with avatars. Come on, try to keep up, guys."
And would Sir Alan have a look at his own future if he was given the chance?
"I think anyone who isn't in the least bit curious about what the future holds is either a liar or already dead!"
â Surprises is showing at the Everyman from Tuesday until Saturday, March 2. Tickets cost £10 to £25 from 01242 572573 or online at www.everymantheatre.org.uk.