Confusions: Frequently Asked Questions

Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alan Ayckbourn's play Confusions.

Is there anything which links or connects the five plays which comprise Confusions?
Yes. In 2015, Alan Ayckbourn definitively clarified all five of the plays in Confusions are loosely connected by the characters. In Mother Figure, Lucy is married to Harry, who we see trying to call her. Harry is the businessman who appears in Drinking Companion and who is served drinks by a waiter. This is the same waiter who appears in Between Mouthfuls (at presumably the same hotel), who serves Mrs Pearce and her husband. Mrs Pearce appears in Gosforth's Fête and mention is also made of her husband. In the final play, A Talk In The Park, the most subtle and easily missed connection is that Doreen is the former wife of Gosforth, who Milly mentions in Gosforth's Fête. Doreen talks about her former husband being a landlord, which is a subtle reference to Gosforth.

I've seen one of the plays referred to as both Drinking Companions and Drinking Companion, which is correct?
Drinking Companion is the correct title.

The play suggests a company of five actors. Can I use more?
Theoretically, you could perform Confusions with all 22 roles (20 characters) being taken by different actors. Alan Ayckbourn's preference has always been for five actors though as Confusions was intended to be an actors' showcase. However, different cast-size permutations have been used in professional and amateur productions over the years.

Am I able to perform the Confusions plays individually (for example as part of a drama festival)?
Yes, you can perform the plays individually. Licenses for individual performance can be obtained as per normal via Samuel French.

I'd prefer to stage Confusions without the final play A Talk In The Park, is this possible?
Alan Ayckbourn does not condone this and believes that not finishing Confusions with A Talk In The Park fails to appreciate both his intentions with the play and the dramatic structure of the evening. It is intended to end on a dying fall after the comedy of Gosforth's Fête. As the playwright explains: "A Talk In The Park is considered by some to be a bit of an anti-climax. Indeed sometimes it's cut in an attempt to leave the audience on a high. I don't like it when this happens because I think it loses the nature of Confusions. It was intentional that the evening runs down. At the end the five actors are left onstage, no longer a team but, increasingly, just five individuals in their own little world. A tableau of silence. The audience should ask, is that all there were of them?"

In relation to the first question (what links the plays), why do several books insist there are no links between the plays?
Because these books presume the West End production (not directed by Alan Ayckbourn) accurately reflected the author's intentions - which it did not. Confusions was conceived as an ensemble piece; the West End production was a star vehicle for John Alderton and Pauline Collins. Instead of the roles being fairly distributed amongst the company as the author intended, the West End production saw John Alderton taking all the major male roles. As a result, the waiter - who connects Drinking Companion and Between Mouthfuls - was not the same in the two plays in London, breaking the connecting link. It should be remembered and emphasised that Confusions was written as an ensemble play with equal emphasis on all five actors and not just one or a couple and the correct way of casting the play should follow how Alan Ayckbourn originally cast it in Scarborough, rather than how it was cast in London. In a nutshell any publication or writer which insists there is no link between the plays hasn't done their research diligently enough!

What is the correct way to cast the play?
The correct casting (which allows each actor to be featured and highlights the links between the plays) is listed below. This is how the roles were written to be divided and how they were presented in Alan Ayckbourn's world premiere production and his subsequent self-directed revivals.

Male 1: Terry / Waiter (Drinking Companion) / Waiter (Between Mouthfuls) / Stewart / Ernest
Male 2: Harry / Martin / Vicar / Charles
Male 3: Pearce / Gosforth / Arthur
Female 1: Lucy / Bernice / Mrs Pearce (Between Mouthfuls) / Mrs Pearce (Gosforth's Fête) / Beryl
Female 2: Rosemary / Paula / Polly / Milly / Doreen

The single biggest mistake in casting is to cast the play as it was with the West End premiere in 1976, this did not follow the playwright's intentions and both gave undue prominence to the 'star' actors and disrupted the links between the plays. Unfortunately, this is the casting given in the Samuel French edition of the play and should be ignored.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.