Confusions, which consists of five
loosely-linked one act plays, is Alan Ayckbourn’s study of quiet desperation.
Passing from one farcical situation to the next, we encounter relationships
(and people) in various stages of break down, which, though consistently funny,
never fail to be a reminder of our perennial problem with words and how they
can fail us.
The play, which received its London premiere in 1976, was
written during a purple patch in Ayckbourn’s illustrious career and has the
writer’s usual wry take on middle class marital strife.
We initially meet Lucy (Gillian McCafferty), a put upon
mother of three with an absent husband and a strange aversion to bells. When
her bickering married neighbours visit to enquire about her health we realise
she’s become accustomed to treating everyone she meets like children. Almost a
hostage in her own home, she seeks to infantilise the world around her, finding
the reality of her situation too hard to face.
This places her in a similar position to husband Henry
(Howard Teale), a lonely travelling salesman in a hotel bar with a developing
alcohol problem. He corners a reluctant perfume seller (Aimi Percival) and
while plying her with drinks, attempts to get her up to his room. As the drinks
flow the smooth talker becomes the morose monologist and is reduced to
frantically babbling “room 249” in the vain hope of avoiding another night
The next scene in the restaurant of the same hotel is an
expert demonstration of how people can be sat in the same room, in this example
arguing couples, but be utterly insensitive to what is being asked of them.
This is followed by a disastrous village fete assailed by inclement weather and
an unfortunately revealing PA system. The play is rounded off in what could be
seen as a parable for our solipsistic age: five lonely figures in a park who
can’t listen to each other but fully expect to be listened to and subsequently
find themselves no closer to anyone.
Deftly directed by Ben De Wynter, the cast brilliantly
capture their various roles’ bubbling angst and/or wide-eyed oddness as they
try and grope towards some shared understanding and fail spectacularly. Overall
this unfolds as an enjoyable evening that puts our fear of solitude under the
microscope with humorous effect.