Written and Directed by Alan Ayckbourne
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Alan Ayckbourn is unquestionably a prolific and popular playwright whose seventy-nine plays have delighted and challenged audiences for almost sixty years. He has explored the vicissitudes of the human condition with pith and panache and often focuses on the relationships between women and men and, most often, on the misdeeds of the latter gender. The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough England has chosen to revive the playwright’s “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway Series.
A series of five interconnected plays, “Confusions” flips a character from the first play into the next play until the themes of the first four pieces collide on a park bench in “A Talk in the Park.”
In “Mother Figure,” Lucy (Elizabeth Boag) a frazzled young mother struggles to balance sanity with caring for her children without any assistance from her mostly absent gad-about husband. Her neighbor Rosemary, concerned she has not seen Lucy recently, makes a visit and experiences an abundance of uber-nurturing unlike the care she receives from her sexist hubby Terry (Stephen Billington). In the second play “Drinking Companion” Lucy’s absentee hubby Harry (Richard Stacey) is found trying to pick up two women in a hotel lounge. Terry is the ultimate sexist cad who does not manage to fool Paula (Charlotte Harwood) or her friend Bernice (Elizabeth Boag) but manages inadvertently to garner the attention of the gay waiter (Stephen Billington) who appears in the third play “Between Mouthfuls” the ultimate in cuckolding comedy. Mr. and Mrs. Pearce (Russell Dixon and Elizabeth Boag) dine unaware of Mr. Pearce’s employee Martin (Richard Stacey) who is in the same restaurant with his wife Polly (Charlotte Harwood) who has had a bit of a tryst with her hubby’s boss.
In the second act, Mrs. Pearce is the honored guest at “Gosforth’s Fete” a celebration of all that can possibly go wrong at a civic event. Gosforth (Russell Dixon) has managed to have a tryst with Stewart’s (Stephen Billington) fiancé Milly (Charlotte Harwood). The Vicar (Richard Stacey) serves as the moral trope amidst the amoral mayhem. At the performance I attended, the audience went wild over this piece guffawing loudly accompanied by knee-slapping and double-overs. This critic was quite frankly quite bored.
What was undoubtedly unique in 1974 – and what most audiences still find hilarious on both sides of the Pond – I find sad for some reason. It all seems just too dated and irrelevant. Watching “Confusions” is akin to watching a piece of history while laughing at important issues we have yet to resolve. And while it is therapeutic to laugh at ourselves and our foibles, there needs to be some other payoff to two hours and fifteen minutes of tom foolery.
Under Mr. Ayckbourn’s careful direction, the ensemble cast is brilliant and does its individual and collective best to breathe new life into these five plays. It is the vintage of the plays and not the craft of these fine actors that weigh down the effort. Michael Holt’s design and Jason Taylor’s lighting are appropriate and complement the action of each play with style.
Sexism, adultery, and abuse – these three remain today in abundance – but reviving a 1970’s look at these horrific and persistent problems does little to massage the conscience or quicken the spirit of compassion. Mr. Ayckbourn’s impressive body of work is to be celebrated but not worshipped and something beyond “Confusions” is needed to sort out the sexual turbulence of the twenty-first century.
“Confusions” plays in repertory with Mr. Ayckbourn’s new play “Hero’s Welcome” through July 3, 2016.