CONFUSIONS by Alan Ayckbourn - A NODA review by Dee Sharpe

Director Trevor Hodgson should be congratulated for his understanding and interpretation of the 5 playlets that make up ‘Confusions’ and their interlinking themes of human shortcomings, loneliness and miscommunication explored through the vehicles of comedy and farce. 

The play depends on convincing characterisation and perfect timing and I was impressed with the cast who delivered in spades, presenting compelling well-rounded characters.

The playlets are Mother Figure, Drinking Companions, Between Mouthfuls, Gosforth’s Fete and Talk in the Park.  

Mother Figure depicts Lucy, a mother so caught up with the demands of her offspring and left isolated by her travelling salesman husband that she lives in her dressing gown, no longer relating to the outside world. When neighbour Rosemary, pops in to check she is okay, followed by husband Terry, she treats them as children and they respond by behaving like them. Lucy Walker’s gave a superb performance as distracted, overworked, absent-minded mother Lucy well supported by Heather McFarlane-Cryer as neighbour Rosemary, and Ian Henham as bolshy chauvinistic Terry. Their deterioration from woman to girl and man to boy was excellent, and the bittersweet ending of being made to hold hands to go home together, leaving Lucy in her isolated world once more, was well played.

Drinking Companions had Graeme Muncer as a wonderfully cringe worthy Harry trying unsuccessfully to chat up Paula (August Porter) and lure her to his hotel room. He became increasingly drunk and desperate, which was excruciating and hilarious to watch. His inane laugh, body language and facial expressions were exquisitely done creating a believable but ludicrous character. August managed to depict a kind, tolerant Paula, eager to escape but too polite to do so, unlike friend Bernice, competently played by Tracey Bates, who had clearly encountered many versions of Harry before, and had no compunction about being rude to rescue her friend.  

Between Mouthfuls has couples Martin (Nick Cryer) and Polly (Nikki Dowd) at one table and Mr and Mrs Pearce (Peter Ingledew and Liz Gibson) at another, in the same hotel restaurant. Martin works for Mr Pearce. Polly has just been on a holiday fling with him and Mrs Pearce is suspicious of an affair. The waiter (Malcolm Harrington) flits back and forth, serving each couple and eavesdropping on their conversations. This was cleverly timed so that the conversation snippets alternated. There was excellent characterisation from the actors in this, but waiter Malcolm stole the scene with his comic facial expressions, perfect timing and body language as well as the drying of Mr Pearce’s trousers!

When Gosforth’s Fete opened, I was hugely impressed with the set which included a marquee with bunting. It was fabulous down to the last detail, exactly as though a country village fete was set up on stage. Well done set design and building team!

Gosforth (Graeme Muncer) is getting stressed as he tries to orchestrate the fete schedule and get the PA system working. VIP Mrs Pearce, ladylike and autocratic turns up to be shown around by the Vicar (wonderful vicarisation by Ian Henham). As Gosforth fixes the loudspeaker Milly (Lucy Walker) breaks the news that she is pregnant by him and this news is broadcast widely with the aid of said loudspeaker. Milly’s fiancée cub scout leader Stewart ably played by Josh Martello hears the news and confronts them both before getting drunk on sherry and neglecting the cubs who cause mayhem and send Mrs Pearce on a wild goose chase. On top of this the tap of the tea urn refuses to turn off, torrential rain becomes a thunderstorm and Mrs Pearce is electrocuted. The cast in this excelled themselves with their acting, interactions and flawless timing.

There was a change of gear for ‘A Talk In The Park’ where five characters sit on different benches.  One by one each pours out their woes to their neighbour who escapes by moving to the next bench to pour their own woes out, and so on. There was a funny twist to my evening’s experience when after the interval I returned to my seat to find it taken – little realising this was by an actor until the scene started. I’m relieved I didn’t ask him to move. Having the actors start in the audience was a good touch as well as the cyclist bringing his bike onto the stage and the background projection of a park.  This play summed up ‘Confusions’ overarching themes and the blend of humour, realism, and pathos of the piece was perfectly portrayed by the cast, Tony Westwood as Arthur, Isabelle Cryer as Beryl, John Coit as Charles, Tracey Bates as Doreen and Nick Cryer as Ernest.

Once again I have enjoyed a memorable evening with this hugely talented theatre company. Thank you.