Confusions: World Premiere ReviewsThis page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Confusions at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in September 1974. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced. Extracts from reviews of the original West End production of Confusions can be found here.
Striking New Play(s) By Ayckbourn (by Eric Shorter)
"Stand by for yet another play by Alan Ayckbourn. Having already produced one striking and original new comedy (Absent Friends) since the amazing trilogy at the Globe Theatre [The Norman Conquests], he came forward last night at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, with yet another piece - or rather pieces - to add to the collection of plays apparently awaiting production in the West End.
The latest is called Confusions and consists of five sketches in a typically jaunty manner which have no bearing on each other but which again exhibit the author's delicious sense of humour in droll abundance.
It is this: having shown that he can write one full-length play in three different ways with equal confidence, he wants now to prove that he can write five one-acters with no connection at all - or none that I could perceive - though there is a very faint link between the first two.*
An overworked young mother whose husband has departed (or fled) treats a couple off nosey neighbours literally like small children. The absent spouse, a commercial traveller, entertains with increasing failure two amusingly bored young women in a provincial hotel.
In a quiet restaurant two married couples dine separately and quarrelsomely and adultery eventually forms a link.
The cumulative disarray of a parish fete then riotously shows Mr Ayckbourn at his most farcical and the evening closes with a sad little picture of park bench bores wearying each other in lonely rotation.
It all makes a technically uneven, but charmingly observed, study of middle-class, marital anxieties. Nothing new for students of this author, and much of it is terrible slim - not to say stretched , especially in the last two instances. But beneath the scrappiness, the patchiness and the barrel-scraping feeling it still gets a strong sense of genial jaundice about the ritual of suburban English wedlock.
And the Scarborough company, acting 'in the round' has never been seen to greater advantage, especially Janet Dale and Eileen O’Brien."
(Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1974)
* There is actually a loose link between all of the plays (see FAQs).
Alan Ayckbourn, who writes a new play for each summer season of in-the-round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, has excelled himself this season. When it was decided, a few weeks ago, to stay on at the Library and present an autumn and winter season, Mr Ayckbourn wrote another play to open the new season and on September 30 Confusions had its premiere.
Confusions, combining five playlets each pinpointing the weaknesses and so forth of ill-matched married couples, lives up to the requirement of all Ayckbourn plays in keeping his audiences in almost continuous laughter. Yet underlying is the Chaplin-like pathos of it all, and sometimes one wonders if one should be laughing or crying.
This was particularly so in the first and last playlet - Mother Figure and A Talk in The Park.
In the first playlet, Lucy is a young mother with three children to whom she appears to be dedicated, especially as her husband, away on business, rarely comes home. She doesn’t bother to get dressed, but slops around in nightie, tatty dressing gown, and slippers and cannot remember when she last dressed. When her neighbours call to give her a message - as she doesn’t answer bells, telephone or door - she treats them as children, giving them a “nice orange dinky", stops them quarrelling, tells them to sit up straight and makes the husband apologise to his wife before she allows them to leave.
Another playlet A Talk in The Park shows five people each sitting on a park bench, A man, lonely, moves from his bench to the next, where he talks to a girl who ignores him, but he keeps on talking, so the girl, who has been jilted, eventually moves to the next bench, where a City man is studying papers which concern his bankruptcy. He is not interested in the girl’s troubles, so he moves over to the next bench where a middle-aged housewife, laden with parcels - and troubled by the look on her face - thinks he is after her for some ulterior motive and so scurries across to the next bench to a young helmeted motor cyclist and tells him about the man. He too doesn’t want to know and moves to the man where we started.
The other three playlets - Drinking Companion, Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth’s Fête - are equally good and Gosforth’s Fête is extremely funny. Janet Dale, Eileen O’Brien, Stanley Page, Christopher Godwin and Stephen Mallatratt have kept up a very high standard of acting throughout the season and they add to their laurels in this new play, which is adroitly directed by the author.
(The Stage, 10 October 1974)
Fresh Confusions (by Harry Mead - extract)
"I found it the distilled essence of Ayckbourn - pure gold. I also laughed a lot. The entertainment marks a further advance by Ayckbourn, who is a remarkably inventive playwright. He has said he needs three acts to get his characters fully on the move. But here he presents five pieces that are less one-act plays than vignettes. And of Ayckbourn the slow-starter, there is no sign."
(Northern Echo, 20 November 1974)
Alan Ayckbourn Brings Us Another Winner (extract)
"The show was as near perfect as makes no difference.... In Gosforth's Fête, their [the company's] craft moves into brilliance, with such a wild, side-splitting finish that I nearly fell off my seat. Nobody can do any more for an audience than that."
(Scarborough Evening News, 1 October 1974)
Ingenuity and Technique
Over the past 15 years Scarborough Library Theatre and, more recently, its director of productions, Alan Ayckbourn, have earned much applause, but never more so than now.
For playgoers not familiar with their work, the company is housed in rooms above the town’s public lending library and stages its shows 'in-the-round,' audiences literally encircling the actors who perform in an open area in the middle without scenery.
But by careful production techniques - lighting, costume, props and stage direction - the formula can be used to better effect than the proscenium arch.
The company has come a long way since Hermione Gingold's son, Stephen Joseph, pioneered this type of theatre at Scarborough and Stoke-on-Trent in the late '50s. Working with him in those early days was Ayckbourn, as a young backstage helper and actor who is now running the show and writing most of its plays, which have won acclaim the world over as having the wit of Coward and the perception of Chekov.
They mercilessly expose the foibles of middle-class suburban life. He has five plays showing in London's West End, possibly a theatrical record.
Earlier in the year, Peter Hall, the artistic director of our National Theatre visited Scarborough to see his new play, Bedroom Farce, and asked Ayckbourn if he could use the play to open the Lyttelton Theatre when the National buildings are completed in 1976.**
Scarborough is where all Ayckbourn's plays are premiered. To end this year’s summer season - the last at the library *** - the talented company, who are moving to a disused church near the South Bay, which is to be converted to a theatre in time for next year, revive a production from last winter. Confusions, a fragmentary piece involving five actors in as many scenes, all hilariously funny, but, as is so often with comedy, and particularly Ayckbourn humour, not without rancour and poignancy.
Mother Figure is the least successful but the only one not to end sourly. Endless domestic chores cause a harassed young woman to scold neighbours in the way she would her children - plausible, but monotonous.
The next scene, Drinking Companion, is about a furtive sales rep and his failure to impress a girl in a hotel bar. Christopher Godwin is a clever actor and his performance should not he missed, nor his vicar later in the programme. Janet Dale's knowing looks are timed perfectly.
Between Mouthfuls is illustrative of the author’s ingenuity as a playwright and director. Two couples at separate tables and a waiter act a lavish scene with telling economy. The marital disharmony is fun, sad.
A technical feat is Gosforth‘s Fête. It is incredible that such chaos is so controlled. The people are not likeable and the situation offensive, but when has comedy been exclusive? Stanley Page is the archetype domineering organiser, “all sound and fury signifying nothing.” He has seduced the tea lady who is engaged to the Scout leader. A communication to Stephen Mallllatratt is loud and effective.
Finally, A Talk In The Park, is pathos; about people too preoccupied to listen even briefly to others. The scene is contrived, the characters are authentic. Eileen O’Brien played the self-preservation woman particularly well.
(Yorkshire Gazette, 14 August 1974)
** Actually, it was Peter Hall who originally commissioned Bedroom Farce for the Lyttelton with the understanding it would be premiered in Scarborough before transferring to the National Theatre.
*** The company actually left the Library Theatre in 1976 and the plans to convert the mentioned church did not go through with the company moving to Scarborough's former Boys' High School in 1976.
Ayckbourn's Confusions (by Andrew Veitch)
"Alan Ayckbourn started writing Confusions five days before rehearsals were due to start. Scarborough Library theatre company were putting on a winter season last year and Ayckbourn wanted to write a new farce - he couldn’t, so he wrote Confusions instead, a series of five 20-minute sketches. Even they, he is reported as saying, “are a bit sour at the corners.” ’That’s an understatement.
They are vicious. It’s a little as though Ayckbourn honestly sets out to write the straightforward, sometimes slap-stick comedy, and it turns sour on him. His characters (and his actors) are all too accurate. In past plays we have felt like that oft-quoted member of the audience: “If I’d known what I was laughing at I’d have cried.” In Confusions it’s worse: we know the awful sick cause of our laughter - yet still we laugh. Confusions is not so much theatre of the absurd, as theatre of de Sade. Ayckbourn’s characters are as grotesque emotionally as de Sade’s were physically.
The five sketches in Confusions are linked in a confused sort of way. The first and nastiest, called Mother Figure, concerns an all but deserted Mum wrestling to bring up three kids. It is evening, and she is in her dressing gown - not going to bed early, she hasn’t got dressed yet. In fact, she hasn‘t dressed for days, because she hasn’t been out for days, it didn’t seem worth it. She hasn‘t spoken to anyone except her kids for days. She is not a pitiful figure - far from it, excessively strong, the neighbours call to see if she is all right and she treats them like children (“Rosemary dear, don’t make that noise when you drink”) and dominates them. They become children. In the second sketch, Drinking Companion, we switch to her husband Harry, as pitiful a chauvinist pig as Ayckbourn is ever likely to stick, feebly chatting up two birds in his hotel while on a sales trip to Middlesbrough. Between Mouthfuls is the third sketch. We move from hotel to restaurant with the same intrusive waiter. Boss and wife are quarrelling at one table, ambitious employee and wife are rowing at another. Both are on stage, neither pair hears the other, an effect Ayckbourn has tried with some success before, and it works again, all is confusion until one awful revelation links the two worlds.
The boss’s wife in Between Mouthfuls - the worst kind of ageing, Public spirited female - appears again in the fourth sketch Gosforth’s Fête (not the town, just the name of a man); this is the most farcical of the five.
It involves a scout master, a vicar, a schoolteacher, the aforementioned public spirited dragon, an unwanted pregnancy, and a band of rampaging wolf cubs. It concerns a fated village fête, it's very funny, and I daren’t tell much of the story because there wouldn't be anything left.
Confusions involves five actors and more than 20 parts.**** Particularly memorable are Janice [sic] Dale's caged mother in Mother Figure; Christopher Godwin as her pitiful husband in Drinking Companion; Stephen Mallatratt’s drunken scout master in Gosforth’s Fête; Eileen O’Brien's busy bee schoolteacher in the same sketch; and Stanley Page’s outrageously bumptious Gosforth."
(The Guardian, 6 August 1974)
**** 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.
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.