Confusions: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn
Confusions (New Vic Theatre production programme note)
In 1974, when the Stephen Joseph Theatre company was based in its first home in two rooms of Scarborough Public Library, we extended the season for the first time into the winter to be followed by a tour. A number of places had indicated that they would like a visit from us, preferably with a piece written by me. Earlier that year I had written a play called Absent Friends. This I had already sold for production in London so what to take? Then I recalled a sketch I had written for an entertainment presented by Oscar Quitak for a week in Horsham which never went any further. (The show Mixed Blessings was intended as a sequel to Mixed Doubles which had had a successful run in London in the early sixties). Being thrifty, like most writers, I snatched my piece, Mother Figure, 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 22 parts* in all) and it was also a chance to work in the one act medium. Happily it was a great success and in 1976 went on to have a good nine-month run at London’s Apollo Theatre starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins. For those in Newcastle-Under-Lyme with long memories, one of the members of that original Scarborough cast was Stanley Page who along with myself was a founder member of the New Vic company at Hartshill. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, though, about Confusions is that almost 25 years after it was written, it became a GCSE set text. Now that I never expected.
Notes And Thoughts On Confusions (2003)
The plays were written originally for a company of five to tour. It was intended that the parts be shared equally amongst the five.
The plays are all (deliberately) written in slightly different styles though the over-riding prerogative in all of them is that they be played (within the bounds of each of their styles) absolutely truthfully. That is to say, the temptation to 'comment' on situation or action or unnecessarily 'embroider' the characters should be firmly resisted.
ln Mother Figure, for instance, the underlying violence that exists between Terry and Rosemary should never be played down. She is a battered wife. Nor should Lucy's anger with her absent husband - an important factor in what has caused her confused state of mind - be glossed over.
Drinking Companion is essentially a tragedy about a sad, lost, randy drunk. Harry is the most appalling man and deserves everything he gets - and yet his delusions about himself, about the two women he drinks with, are essentially pathetic. It is an incident I witnessed first hand in a Scarborough hotel; indeed, one I witnessed on several consecutive evenings with the same two women, both in town to do sales demos. When they had finished work, they came back to their rooms where they spent over an hour preparing for the evening ahead, making up, dressing up. They then swept down the main staircase scanning the room for likely lone male 'prey'. One of them would move in on him and then, some time after, her friend would join her. By then the bloke, more often than not, was committed to buying them dinner. Perhaps he had visions of a threesome! None of them, as far as I could tell, ever made it as far as the bedroom, though.
Between Mouthfuls is essentially a farce. With the waiter's eye / ear view of the proceedings which we are allowed to pick up on as the meal proceeds, it is important that the waiter never comments either on the action or the people he is serving. It is a role dedicated to Keaton, rather than Chaplin. What he thinks, or doesn't think about the goings on, whether he even comprehends or cares about the goings on is none of our business. All he's really interested in is getting off home at the end of the evening. Again the proceedings at both tables are quite dark; it's the respective fury between the couples which in turn generates the humour. Both couples are totally unaware they are being overheard. The waiter is an inanimate object as far as they're concerned. And of course, the more they feel they are keeping things under wraps, the more delighted we, the audience, are to listen in and learn things. Technically it's a great acting challenge, fading in and out of the conversations as the waiter approaches or recedes; it takes much rehearsal. lt should, though, appear effortless, which is always the hardest thing to achieve onstage.
Gosforth's Fête is the one that can so easily run away with you. It should be great fun to play but like the preceding piece, is technically very difficult. Again observe the truth of the situation. Stokes is a sad man but he blazes with well intentioned integrity. Milly is trapped in a world she would give anything at this stage to run away from. And Gosforth... well, you can't blame him for trying I suppose! lt's a totally absurd script and thus should be played very very seriously. This fête matters.
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 punters on a high. I don't like it when this happens because I think it loses the nature of the piece. It was intentional that the evening runs down. At the end the five are left onstage, no longer a team but, increasingly, just five individuals in their only little world. A tableau of silence. The audience should ask, is that all there were of them? Mind you, in some productions there are 22 actors* so maybe in that case, it's less applicable. Maybe that's true of yours.
Confusions (Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round 1991 production programme note)
Confusions received its world premiere at Scarborough's Library Theatre in September 1974. Written for the Scarborough company to tour, it went on to open at the Apollo Theatre in May 1976, starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins.
Alan Ayckbourn remembers: "Five one-act plays written for our first Scarborough Winter Season. They played in Filey (in the round) on Tuesdays, Whitby (in the proscenium arch) on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and in the Library, Scarborough (three-sided) on Fridays and Saturdays. The cast never knew if they were coming or going."
The original cast comprised Scarborough stalwarts Janet Dale, Christopher Godwin, Stephen Mallatratt, Eileen O'Brien and Stanley Page.
Says Christopher Godwin: “In Filey we played at the inaptly named 'Sun Lounge', which we were all sure was a converted gents' loo. We had space heaters to dry it out and raise the temperature to freezing! Unfortunately this method of heating condenses all the moisture on the ceiling and when you turn off the heater, it drips. Nature will not be denied, and there the audience sat, bless them, in their rugs and winter woolies, all with their macs on and little plastic hats as the ceiling rained glutinous drops all over them.
“I remember Whitby better because we had an enormous storm one evening, and an electrician blew away. He fought his way back to the theatre, but it was touch and go. The wind was so strong that it blew the dock doors open and the flats on stage were blown over - very dramatic! The gentleman who ran the theatre at the time affected a kilt which did not blow in the wind, and he confided to me (he may have been joking) that there was more than one use for toupee tape."
Stanley Page has very happy memories of Confusions: “I remember tremendous laughter rocking the little Library Theatre when we played Gosforth's Fête. There is nothing so riotous as laughter in the round!"
* 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. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.