Constant Companions: Articles

This section contains articles about Alan Ayckbourn's play Constant Companions. This article by his Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, was published in the programme for the world premiere production of the play in 2023.

More Human Than Human…

Earlier in the year, Simon Murgatroyd interviewed Alan Ayckbourn about his new play Constant Companions, just as science fiction began to resemble science fact.

Simon Murgatroyd: Constant Companions sees you heading back to the future - although judging by recent newspaper reports, one not too far away.
Alan Ayckbourn:
Constant Companions is a look at a very possible future - in fact a very probable future of androids and artificial intelligence [AI]. As we’ve all read, it’s already coming, AI is developing at an alarmingly rapid rate, faster than we normal mortals even know or can be aware of.

Is that a surprise to you? You wrote this play last year before the explosion of headlines about AI. Did you think the play would become quite so pertinent?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to write science fiction because, back in Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov’s day, it was pretty astonishing they foresaw quite as much as they did. It took several decades before some of the things they foresaw happened. Now, it’s sometimes several days!

Constant Companions is science fiction today, but in two years time could well become a standard domestic comedy.

Was there any specific inspiration behind the play?
I was listening to the Astronomer Royal and somebody asked if he thought there was life on other planets. He said, almost certainly. By the law of logistics, there’s bound to be. The next question was, why don’t you think they’ve made contact with us? And he replied, we’ve only been here a very brief time. In terms of the universe, the human race has been here for the blink of an eye and nobody’s yet discovered we’re here and we’ve not discovered they’re there.

He said, it’ll probably be our successors who make first contact. The androids - or artificial life we create - are more likely to survive what we’ve done to this planet than we are and they will make contact, probably with another android species which survived their creators. The chances of a human form meeting another human form are zilch, but if you’ve got an android - which has a much longer timeframe - they might well overlap with another android successor. I thought, that’s really fascinating.

And how did that influence the direction of your writing?
The play looks at androids from a personal point of view. What if a human married an android or created a relationship with an android? With an android’s life expectation of several hundred years with good maintenance and the human’s relationship limited to 100 years with gradual deterioration, how is that going to play out?

That’s an interesting perspective. It doesn’t exactly bode well for us mere humans!
In that relationship, what happens when a human breaks down early? What will an android think when a person with whom they have formed an attachment with - or maybe even a love of - suddenly becomes physically or mentally ill? Will they analyse it as faulty goods? Will they, like us if we have a faulty fridge, be inclined to think, ‘My husband has broken down, I’m going to send him back. Who made him and what were they thinking?’ The logical extension of that is, sue the parents. Sue the grandparents. It’s light-hearted, but nonetheless it is an interesting thought.

Do you personally think it’s likely we’ll form relationships once the androids are in our homes and workspaces?
I think we would. If some being came into our house and presented reliability and constancy, we would undoubtedly be drawn to it. The randomness of other people is always disturbing for us!
Let’s be honest, people do this already. How many people do you know who have animals - dogs and cats - that they live with, that if truth be told would say, ‘I’m much happier with my dog than my husband / wife. They’re much more reliable and less frightening really. They’re constant.’
No matter how good the relationship, there’s always some drawbacks that you have to accommodate. That’s part of humanity and the easy option is to settle for the safety of a constancy, where you also tend to make less effort obviously.

There’s some serious ethical and moral issues to ponder there.
Yes, it would be like living with the person that made you - because androids would know their creators made them in their image. And, in a way, it is equivalent to us meeting God. But a God who is hellbent on self-destruction. I imagine the androids would be at a complete loss. ‘Why did you do it all? Why did you make us? What is the point of it all?’ Asking all the really big questions.
Of course, we’d probably turn to them as the world burns and shrug, ‘No idea.’

We must also mention the music of Constant Companions, which is slightly unusual. What led to this choice?
It’s a piece by a dutch group called ORBI (the Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments) - a chamber music rock group! - and they take classic rock tunes and then adapt them to their own particular style of Hammond organ, bassoon, bass and percussion. If you close your eyes, it could well be androids playing the music! I imagine androids would really like it.

Finally, from Henceforward… to Comic Potential to Constant Companions, you keep returning to androids. What attracts you to writing them?
I think androids are interesting in that they are both a voice of simplicity and a certain logic. They’re shorn of a lot of emotion and a lot of human subtlety is missing, but as I’ve developed them in my plays, they’ve developed more and more humanoid characteristics. But they remain, at heart, simple people. They are - in the end - yardsticks by which we are judged: how we treat them and how we respond to them. They allow me to explore what it means to be human.

Simon Murgatroyd is Alan Ayckbourn’s Archivist and the creator of the websites and