Jeeves / By Jeeves: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

For a far more detailed exploration of Alan Ayckbourn's and Andrew Lloyd Webber's thoughts on Jeeves & By Jeeves, click here to go to the Interviews section. For quotes by Andrew Lloyd Webber, click here.


"I was originally asked by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to prepare a book, which I did. When I turned up with the synopsis, Rice, I discovered, had decided that he couldn't cope with the lyrics, so I got conned into doing them. Already the thing was becoming a bigger commitment than I had originally envisaged. I don't think I could ever collaborate with another writer, but I did find collaborating with a musician very stimulating. The book, however, was eventually running for four hours. I could have cut it in about a day in Scarborough circumstances. But with a vehicle like that, by the time one got round to cutting, it was like treading on eggs. Actors all had their numbers, the musicians had their favourite bits, and so on. The producer of Jeeves I met twice as he spent most of his time in Los Angeles. We were all left to our own devices, which would have been all right if any of us had done this sort of show before. We badly needed Hal Prince, or someone like him. I did, however, develop a close working relationship with Lloyd Webber, which I hope might lead to something else, something conducted on our own terms."
(Plays And Players, September 1975)

"Now Jeeves... that was a terrifying experience. There seemed to be a vast money-eating machine where you set things in motion that you couldn't stop. One of the things that went wrong (and actually everything did) was the length, so I sliced away - like a Minister for the Arts - including this bit where there wasn't much happening, just people walking on and off, and suddenly the designer came up and shouted: 'You've cut 23 costumes, they took weeks'. And I'd only cut five minutes."
(The Times, 4 February 1981)

"I didn't then realise quite how much music slows things down. Mind you, the book would have run for four hours at least just by itself. Then I had to write the lyrics, which isn't easy, as sometimes Andrew came up with the tune before the words. I think he's re-used some of those since! Composers do that. It might be fun to try again."
(Capital Magazine, 18 September 1986)

"My first real musical experience was the biggest and the most disastrous - writing the lyrics and the book for
Jeeves with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I know why, because we didn't spend enough time preparing for it or really finding out what a musical was about. It was quite extraordinary, like a bunch of people with no torches in a coal-mine. I'd been used to writing here [Scarborough], where I'm in total control of all the elements. It always seemed to me that the book-writer in most musicals is the poor relation to lyricists and composers. A lot of musicals are hung around the most appalling books. Dreadful, the dialogue's appalling and the dramatic quality between the music and lyrics and the book, it seems to me is often quite drastic ... unless they clearly have some well-known story-line."
(Music Technology, November 1988)

"It was one of the least successful West End musicals and probably distinguished Andrew's career as the biggest failure he's had. It really did get a critical drubbing then first time."
(The Sentinel, 2001)

"I’m not a great musical fan - aside from Guys & Dolls, which I adore - but my agent - the late great Peggy Ramsay -once said to me: 'Darling, the boys need you to help them for a new musical,' and I said, 'Who are the boys?' and she said, 'Oh Andrew and Tim.' Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice? said I. 'Oh yes,' said Peggy, 'The boys really want to do an original musical.' I said 'OK, what do they want to do it on?' and she said, 'the books of P.G. Wodehouse. Do you know them?' and I said, 'I love Wodehouse, they're super.' So I had an alcoholic dinner with Andrew and Tim and we got on like a house on fire. At the end of the evening, they waved a bleary good night to each other and I remember roughly agreeing to meet Andrew and Tim the next day. So I went over and only Andrew was sitting there, so I said 'Where's Tim?' And he said, 'He wants out, he doesn't want to be part of it.' I said, 'Well that's a bit of a blow, we haven’t even got a lyric writer then.' And Andrew said, 'You can do the lyrics.' I said, 'What me! I haven’t written a lyric in my life.' Andrew said, 'It’s piece of cake.' At which point, I could feel Cole Porter’s body turning in the grave! So I said, thats fine and I had a go and I learnt lyric-writing the hard way and it caused an absolute disaster to occur. Because Andrew had never written an original musical and we had a director who’d never directed an musical, plus a lyric writer who had never written an original musical - or lyrics! So we were on a blazing ship, long before we reached the shore!"
(Essential Classics, BBC Radio 4, 24 July 2016)

By Jeeves

"I knew if I did [revive Jeeves to open the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1996], every press person in the land would come running, wanting to see a disaster a second time. Which was quite nice because they didn't get to. It was a sort of dare."
(Mail On Sunday, 16 August 1998)

"People kept saying 'My God, you're taking a hell of a risk, putting on one of the most famous musical flops in all history.' But we both felt the first time around it was misconceived. It's a modest show for a musical and makeshift in nature, and now it retains that essence. I think I would defend myself in putting it on because it's against the run of what I have been writing. When you're opening a theatre, you don't want to stage a heavy production, you want to give people who have provided donations a party to say 'thank you very much.' "
(The Scotsman, 2 August 1996)

"I rewrote it entirely and in a much smaller way. The cast has shrunk by over fifty percent. Sets all but disappeared. It's very simple now. We've gone back to what I think what we originally wanted. Before, it had run away from us. It's now a celebration of theatre."
(New York Times, 20 October 1996)

"A lot of the [original] songs had been used up in
Evita and things. You could recognise them - and so we started by writing a much shorter book and new score and, amazingly, people actually liked it. There's now talk of it going to Broadway and I've just finished directing the video of it in Canada. I think in the pop music industry people would probably call it a sleeper."
(The Sentinel, 2001)

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