A Small Family Business: Character Notes by Alan AyckbournAlan Ayckbourn rarely write background character notes for his plays, but within his archive there is some correspondence relating to the character of Anita and the families in general in A Small Family Business.
Like Jack, we know Anita only to discover we don't her at all.
On one level she's happy to be all things to all men as is shown in her varied relationships with the Rivetti brothers. Each make different demands on her (as she in turn does on them, of course) and she's happy to oblige. In the old fashioned sense she's what would have been termed amoral. A child of the Thatcher years where the means seemed to justify almost any end, where anything goes in the name of profit and commercial advantage, and where a lot of the basic moral code of behaviour, the common agreement of what was generally right or wrong, the glue that kept our civilisation together, had also been thrown out of the window.
Cliff is a weak man and obviously, so far as Anita is concerned, a woeful under-performer, sexually and professionally. Any public veneer of wifely loyalty she displays towards him, rapidly vanishes once we get below the initial veneer. Love, in their case, has long been replaced by first scorn and lately contempt. I think, in her own mind, Anita has always kicked herself for marrying the wrong brother. Now, Jack she could have made something of!
The shocking thing about Anita is once her initial "I'm just the little woman" act has been discarded, how tough and ruthless she is. If you like, she's the muscle in the organisation. She undoubtedly calls most of the shots and keeps stragglers like Desmond in line. She is that dangerous combination, a woman with both body and brains who's happy to use both to achieve her ends. She also, most of the time, enjoys life and its spoils to the hilt.
Cliff has a very strong wife [Anita] with a dominant personality and a rampant sexuality. He is a multiple cuckold. He braves this out, of course by pretending, in a masculine sort of way, that none of this matters to him, not at all. But it matters a lot to him: 'Everyone knows I’ve been emasculated by a ball breaking wife and stuff you it’s fine by me, mate, who needs her anyway?'
In line with the theme of the play, Cliff takes refuge in material consolations: fast cars, boats and all the new technologies. This is what motivates him. Everyone in the play has a self-justified motive for what they do - i.e. stealing. They need it. They’re a special case. They’re owed it. etc. etc.
Concerning the characters and their class
The characters in A Small Family Business are part of the new middle class.
Ken Ayres is working class. Probably started as an East End barrow boy. The business was built up by him personally.
The younger generation are all products of his financial success. The are firmly middle class. They are new rich. Everything has been purchased during the past decade - if not even the past ten days! I imagined that the McCracken / Ayres house(s) that we see on stage were built as part of the new "executive" housing estates, out in suburbia, probably on the fashionable edges of the green belt.
But there is nothing so specific about them that should tie them to one particular group. The only thing that can be safely said about them is that they are all, on the surface, ordinary and unexceptional. The malaise that afflicts them, afflicts us all.
The Ayres and McCracken families have similar backgrounds. Jack has been brought in to save the business. Obviously the second generation Ayres' (Poppy and Desmond) have been unable to make any contribution. But, again, they are all from the same melting pot.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission of Alan Ayckbourn.