Confusions (2003)

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn fin 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.
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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 Fete 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 fete 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.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.