N. F.Simpson was born in 1919, which makes him somewhat older than most of the playwrights who came on the scene at about the same time as he did. In fact, he turned to playwriting only in 1956—just before the announcements of the Observer Competition, in which his play A Resounding Tinkle was to share third prize. His plays have often been compared with those of the “absurd” playwrights, Ionesco, Beckett and Harold Pinter. He does not like critics—“They are people who have spent the best years of their lives seeing far too many plays.” Neither does he like being interviewed—“Definitive and seemingly lucid answers are a snare and a delusion.”
G.R.:Alone among present-day dramatists you have a degree in English Literature. What effect has this had on your attitude to writing?
N. F. Simpson: It has certainly caused me to be too academic in my approach to what I write before I even begin. It has generated a distrust of my own intuition and made me too conscious of the degree and direction of my deviation from tradition. (It has also caused me to use words like that). Not that I find anything wrong in traditional forms of writing—they just don’t seem to be of any use to me. In all of them, however diverse, form and content have become separated, so that either one is always thought of as dominating the other. To me, the distinction simply doesn’t exist: to me, the poem, the novel, the play is an organic whole, which achieves itself without doing violence to either its form or its content.
What I want to do as a writer is to set down what I see without comment and with the minimum of distortion. Since what I am colours what I write, there must, in this sense, be a kind of implicit comment—which is simply to say that there is something of the writer in everything he writes. It is rather like a shaft of light hitting a piece of red glass, from which it emerges red— without the glass having actively set out to make it red. It may well be that I began to write plays because drama is the form which most successfully releases the writer from the necessity of commenting on what he sees. The ironical thing is that the more you try to conceal yourself the more you succeed, unwittingly, in revealing about yourself.
G.R.: Would you say that you had been influenced by any particular writers? The names of Beckett and Ionesco spring inevitably to mind.
N. F. Simpson: No, I don’t think so. Of course, one can’t say exactly—it is a sub-conscious matter. I have felt an immediate sympathy with certain works like Tristram Shandy. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t even heard of Ionesco or seen a Beckett play when I began to write plays. There are naturally similar currents—but all writers are bound to be influenced by a common climate of thought and feeling.
G.R.: One thing everyone has had to concede to you—your plays are funny. Do you regard this as central to your purpose?