Confusions: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn

"Last winter we stopped being a three-monthly rep and became a nine-monthly company. But we had to go on tour because the Library committee wanted the hall for a couple of months. People who wanted to book us wanted us to bring something of mine but I hadn't got anything, having just sold Absent Friends to [Michael] Codron. Then I recalled a sketch I had written for an entertainment presented in Horsham for a week by Oscar Quitak before it faded into oblivion [the show, Mixed Blessings, was intended as a sequel to Mixed Doubles]. Being mean like most writers, I snatched the piece back and wrote four accompanying pieces specifically for the five actors I'd got in the company. The idea was to show off their talents (there are about 22 parts in all), and it was also a chance to work in the one-act medium."
(Plays And Players, September 1975)

"They vary from fairly frenetic farces to melancholy pieces. They're [one act plays] hard to write - it's like writing short stories. There are 22 characters* for five actors. When we did it at Scarborough, the dressing room was awash with costumes and wigs. It was an actors' evening and they loved it. It's nice if you get five clever actors together. They like it because one of the enormous problems actors face is repetition and staleness. If you go and see something you saw six or seven months ago, it often isn't a shadow of what it was. The actors have lost touch with it."
(The Washington Star, 22 February 1976)

"
Mother Figure was commissioned as one of an anthology of plays [the play Mixed Blessings, a sequel of sorts to the earlier anthology Mixed Doubles]. They had asked seven dramatists to write about parents and their children. I came up with this idea. It amused me, and slightly alarmed me. It was based on my own observation of what happened when my first wife was at home with both our children and saw very few adults - the way a mother's perception of the world can change.
"It also amused me to see how the loutish husband from next door responded to a woman who perceived him as a child. It is really extraordinary how you can carry over the way you treat your children to the adults coming into your house - you know, order them to sit down rather more sharply than you normally would - that sort of behaviour. I hope it also said something about parents and authority and how some of us are still children, or anyway should be treated as such."
(Personal correspondence, 1988)

"
A Talk In The Park being the last play of the five that make up Confusions was designed, if you like, as a sort of final curtain call for the five actors who played the twenty or so characters that make up the whole. All evening they had played as a team; in this last play they reverted to isolated individuals.
"I suppose I was searching for five fairly graphic, immediately recognisable types all of whom would gain a certain sympathy with the audience but all of whom, because of their own self involvement with their own predicaments, would have no sympathy or common bond with each other. Even though they were all very much in the same boat."
(Personal correspondence, 1994)

"There were only five actors available to me, due to budgetary restrictions - an age old problem in theatre! - two women and three men, whom I rather admired as actors and I wanted to provide a showcase to display their versatility and talents, hence Confusions. They were originally five separate pieces written individually - one of them actually, Mother Figure, at least a year before any of the others, and the somewhat spurious links between them were added later to satisfy a producer who requested a greater unity for the evening overall. They were written primarily for fun and to entertain though each has, I feel, its own individual tonal colour, graduating from the darker hues of Drinking Companion through to the sheer out and out farce of Gosforth's Fête and Between Mouthfuls to the reflective melancholy of A Talk in the Park. Think of them as individual colours on an artist's palette, rather. Colours to suit all tastes!
"We've just done a revival of the play here last year [2016], including a successful nationwide tour and a run in New York and so I think they must still in some way be relevant, although we didn't update them at all. But essentially people haven't changed over the years even if the externals (technology, society etc.) have. Lonely neglected wives still get stuck at home occasionally looking after children and sad, slightly drunk married men still try and pick up girls in bars. Extra marital affairs continue to flourish, bosses have affairs with their subordinates' wives, and over-ambitious, well meaning village events still end in inevitable chaos. And we all at some stage find ourselves sitting in some park bench or other and feeling as lonely as hell. But then that's life."
(Personal correspondence, September 2016)

"I'll give a little history of how they were written. In fact,
Mother Figure was written before the other four. I was asked to write a play for a company to perform. It was going to be a follow-up of a series of plays called Mixed Doubles which we did some years ago. A lot of writers got together, including Harold Pinter and James Saunders, and we did a series of one-act plays about marriage, and this new series was supposed to be Mixed Blessings and was going to be about children, and parents and children. I wrote Mother Figure for this series. The series itself was tried out very briefly in Sussex and didn’t work.
But I snatched back my play
Mother Figure and thought one day I might write my own evening, maybe not about children but when I’ve got some more ideas for one-act plays. So later I sat down and I wrote four plays to accompany Mother Figure, using that as the first play to make an evening of Confusions. I then had a company of five actors. It was a time in Scarborough when we were trying to extend our winter season and we couldn’t stay in Scarborough because there wasn’t anywhere for us to play at that point. I wanted to keep the company together. So I arranged for a tour of small theatres around the North of England and I wrote this show. It was fairly flexible and didn’t need a lot of setting; we did it very simply. And it was written, as I say, for the five actors in the company. I was a little bit too sure of their abilities to do five one-act plays, and it gave them, I think, a total of 22 parts.* And so, in a sense, the whole evening started with Mother Figure and as the evening went on they varied and changed their characters and wigs and things, and right at the very end we came to A Talk in the Park which was a very slow winding-down of the evening. The play before A Talk in the Park was a play called Gosforth's Fête which is a very big, quite broad farce and then we suddenly go back to a very quiet, slightly introspective, reflective piece. I think the nice thing about the production was that suddenly one was aware that on the stage, sitting very quietly on four park benches, were the entire cast for the evening, all isolated on their own. It made a very nice finish to the play. So in a sense they are five different plays and they can of course be done individually, in pairs, in threes or whatever, but it was also, of course, intended that, if they are done together, they should be presented in the order in which they appear in the Samuel French edition."
(Albert-Reiner Glaap, A Guided Tour Through Ayckbourn Country)

* Although there are 22 roles in the play, strictly speaking there are only 20 characters as the Waiter and Mrs Pearce both appear in two of the plays.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn.