Loneliness was a common thread

Confusions, by Alan Ayckbourn, Stables Theatre, Hastings, August 9 to 17. Review by Philip Blurton.

Ayckbourn’s ability to make us laugh while pointing to our inability to manage our relationships, was once again on show in this play of five playlets, entitled Confusions.

Five actors played the numerous roles of the piece, where human loneliness seemed to be the thread running through the different scenarios.

In “Mother Figure” Lucy (Rachel Kimber), was cut off from her peers, able only to relate to people in her role as a mother to young children, and in “Drinking Companion”, Harry (Charlie Legg) attempted to chat up anyone, even the waiter (Andrew White), in the hope of some company and intimacy. The remaining three playlets also showed us the desperate attempts of the characters to give meaning to their own lives in the absence of any real or sustained interest in anyone else’s. It was a grim, selfish view of the human condition lightened only by Ayckbourn’s accompanying humour.

As ever, drama works best when the characters appear real and believable, no matter how bizarre their situation or behaviour. John Turner and Fred Lacey were particularly effective in their roles, giving us a variety of characters constrained by conventions and circumstances. Lying beneath the only just maintained civility of their characters was a sense that, at any moment, their real feelings would break out.

Direction of the playlets by Sarah Evans needed detailed planning seamlessly to move the action between the five pieces, each of which required a different setting, costumes and theatrical atmosphere. This she achieved, making the most of music to cover the spaces and carefully choreographed scene changes that were in themselves a pleasure to watch.

Careful direction also achieved some wonderful Ayckbourn moments of cringing laughter. For example, “Between Mouthfuls” saw two dining couples cleverly intertwining separate conversations amidst waiter service and eating of the meal; this all worked a treat. In the final playlet, “A Talk in the Park”, performances were again strong, leaving us depressingly attuned to the Ayckbournian thesis that you can try to unburden your troubles, but no-one is listening.

At times some characters did seem overplayed, moving the action nearer to pantomime than the humorous and cynical. Nonetheless, the production gave the audience much to laugh at, as well as some extremely poignant and solemn moments to consider.