A Small Family Business: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play A Small Family Business by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"Seven years into the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, 'Thatcherism' had gained widespread acceptance in the western world. Never really expressed as a single organic philosophy, it denied the existence of 'society', put 'family values' at the moral and social centre of its world and made the enterprising businessman or woman - the individual rather than the group - the model for citizenship: criticised for making selfishness and greed into political virtues, Mrs Thatcher once argued that the Good Samaritan was only good because he had made enough money to help the traveller beaten by robbers. As playwright Mark Ravenhill pointed out in a Radio 4 tribute in 1999, the way his [Ayckbourn's] play synthesised 'family' and 'business' to show how they could infect the other with corruption made it the central political play of the decade. Ayckbourn believed that both business and government were doing things to which ordinary citizens had never assented and of which they didn't want to be part."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide To Alan Ayckbourn's Plays, 2004, Faber)

"What Ayckbourn shows [in A Small Family Business], with startling clarity of a moral fabulist, is that those who make material wealth their God end up endorsing theft, drug-trafficking and murder. In the greed-orientated climate of the late eighties the family that preys together stays together."
(Michael Billington, source to be confirmed, 1987)

"Many dramatists, from McGuinness to Mark Ravenhill, have told me how much he [Ayckbourn] has influenced them. This play, in particular, offers a devastating assault on the way the entrepreneurial values we were taught to admire in the eighties lead ultimately to fraud, theft, self-deceit, even homicide. It is the modern equivalent of An Inspector Calls - only, being Ayckbourn, far funnier. It argues just as passionately as the work of more overtly political writers that there is such a thing as society. Confirms that British drama, not least in the second half of the century, has acted in opposition to the prevailing ethos."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian, 3 September 1997)

"But, for me, the play that offered the sharpest attack on Thatcherite values came from the supposedly apolitical Alan Ayckbourn. In A Small Family Business (1987), without ever mentioning Mrs Thatcher but to devastatingly comic effect, Ayckbourn pinned down the essential contradiction in her beliefs: that you cannot simultaneously sanctify traditional family values and individual greed. If you do, implies Ayckbourn, you end up with a family that owes more to the Mafia than morality."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian, 8 April 2013)

"Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business wittily exposed the contradiction between the worship of traditional family values and the sanctification of individual greed."
(Michael Billington, The Guardian 8 June 2020)

"No one who saw A Small Family Business could claim that Ayckbourn was apolitical: the play was situated at the heartland of Thatcherism - a small family business - and offered an acerbic view of the social corrosion of the very people that Thatcher was alleged to be enriching. Ayckbourn is an observer, a social anthropologist, not a social emancipator, and few people now believe that society can be changed through theatre; it defies observed experience."
(Richard Eyre & Nicholas Wright: Changing Stages, 2000, Bloomsbury)

"What is 'very satisfying' to Ayckbourn about the play's bizarre turn of events, the dramatist himself admits, is the irony inherent in the situation, that Jack 'should have involved his wife and daughters, whom he set out to protect, in the really ultimate crime.' Fighting with Hough to keep him from getting his hands on a briefcase full of pound notes, Mrs McCracken and her daughters shove the outmanned - or outwomanned - Hough into a bathtub, cracking his skull. In perhaps the most daring scene Ayckbourn has ever devised, the dramatist offers his first onstage death in such a way that he proves his point about the very collapse of civilised society, underscores its sickness, with his audience's reaction: Hough's demise evokes uproarious laughter. With astonishing finesse Ayckbourn indicts his audience, finding them, in conniving with the McCracken women by spurring them on, guilty of conspiracy to murder."
(Albert F Kalson: Laugher In The Dark, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"I think if you look at the point A Small Family Business was written in 1987, family and business are the key words of the Thatcher regime. I think it’s significant he’d directed an Arthur Miller play [A View From The Bridge] in the same season and it very much follows an Arthur Miller All My Sons structure where it starts with the ideal of a small family business and bit by bit that ideal is eroded by the events of the play. And to undermine the whole notion of family and business in an absolutely relentless way throughout the play until there’s nothing left of that notion, I think is one of the most intensely political plays of the period."
(Mark Ravenhill, BBC Radio, 1999)

"Ayckbourn's own A Small Family Business depicting a 'grasping society where goodness is boring and corruption sexy', signalled a darker, less comfortable view of middle-class society than in his previous works and added to the National Theatre's growing reputation for staging thoughtful new writing."
(Dominic Shellard: British Theatre Since The War, 1999, Yale University Press)

"Jack [McCracken] may start out with good intentions, but his corruption is total. In the final scene, unaware that his daughter has become a heroine addict, he delivers another speech indicating his complete acceptance of their [the family's] dishonesty.... His [Jack's] story serves only to emphasise the futility of idealism in a world ruled by commerce. In fact, this is not just a play about the assimilation of an honest man into an evil world; given its historical context, it's hard not to read it also as an attack on Mrs Thatcher's ambition to make businessmen of us all."
(John Wu: Six Contemporary Dramatists, 1995, St Martin's Press)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.