Confusions is a collection of five short, interconnected plays, written by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn and first staged in 1974.
It’s an ambitious undertaking for a community theatre, with each play requiring its own unique set. A smart set design (Chris Leopard), including a revolving stage, allows for some smooth and efficient scene changes – and no doubt a very busy team backstage! The lighting design (Damien Calvert) works well, and the sound design (Robin Le Blond and Peter Frid) creates a soft ambience while still allowing every spoken word to be heard.
A cast of five performers (Jacinta Howden, Eleni Baveli, Daniel Parton, Mark Caile and Josiah Hilbig) play each of the characters through the five plays. It’s very much an ensemble piece, with each performer having their moments to take a more central role and demonstrate their diversity of acting skills.
Chris Proctor serves as the Executive Director, with a Guest Director for each of the five short plays.
Mother Figure (directed by Steve Saul) is the opening play. Opening music set a comedic tone, and as the curtains parted the audience immediately laughed at the sight of a messy family lounge room. This opening play tells the story of Lucy (Jacinta Howden) – a mother raising three young children, virtually alone as her husband is frequently away with work. Her neighbours, concerned they haven’t seen Lucy for some time, decide to call in and check on her. In the meantime, Lucy keeps ignoring phone calls from her husband, implying a significant tension in their relationship. Spending all her time parenting her children, Lucy “parents” her neighbours during their visit. Initially, the play focuses on the isolation and loneliness of this struggling young mother, and it took a while for the audience to laugh, but as the parenting became more extreme, the comedy vibe kicked in and the laughter followed.
The second play Drinking Companions (directed by Erin O’Hare) opens with a man trying to call his wife – ahh, it’s Lucy’s husband, Harry, from the first play. Harry (Mark Caile) seems desperate to connect with his wife, but any empathy from the audience is soon lost when Harry enters a hotel bar, strikes up a conversation with a woman and then suggests she might want to visit his room. Harry is dressed in an iconic 70’s safari suit and this immediately sets the era of the plays. It also helps to explain the “humour” of this particular play. The 1970s was the era of British comedy when men trying to pick up ladies was considered comedy gold. In 2023 it felt awkward, even amongst the mostly older audience who, no doubt, watched and laughed at all those British comedies in the 1970s – just like I did. Times have changed and this play elicited more groans of frustration than laughs. That’s not a bad thing!
Closing out act one was Between Mouthfuls (directed by John Riddell) which follows our waiter (Daniel Parton) from the bar into the hotel’s restaurant. Two couples are seated at either side of the stage, and the audible conversation is focused on where the waiter is standing. There’s heated conversation at both tables and Parton brings some much needed comic relief as the waiter. The detail of the set is exceptional with plates of food being brought out to each of the couples – credit to the props team (Chris Leopard and Maureen Melstead) for creating a sense of realism. The act closes with considerable laughter, leaving the audience smiling in the break.
Act two opens with Gosforth’s Fete (directed by Amy Calvert) and is set in a refreshment tent at the village fete. Gosforth (Mark Caile) is organising the event and things are not going to plan. Scout cubs are running amok, bad weather is looming, the band hasn’t arrived and they can’t find Councillor Pearce (Eleni Baveli) who arrived without her husband – one of the couples having a heated discussion in the restaurant in the previous play. The local parish vicar drops in (Josiah Hilbig) and brings the comedy relief for this play. This is the funniest of all five plays and it plays out like a good British comedy should, leaving the audience in fits of laughter.
The final play to close out Confusions is jarringly different. A Talk in the Park takes place in a park, with a series of people sitting alone at park benches. When an additional person arrives looking for somewhere to sit, she strikes up a conversation, which causes a ripple effect of seat sharing and conversation starting. It becomes apparent that people want to talk – or rather to vent – but not listen. That people feel isolated and lonely but don’t want to create connections. I suspect in our current busy world, this resonates even stronger now than when it was first written in 1974.
Confusions is aptly named. There are some very funny moments, but also some quite thought-provoking ones. The comedy breaks the heavier themes to provide some entertainment and relief, but ultimately the plays are connected not merely by a character or location, but instead by the feelings of isolation and need for companionship and connection – sometimes selfishly and at any cost. Indeed, the more you ponder, the more there is to unpack from this collection of plays.
Confusions is now playing at the 1812 Theatre.
For more details: https://www.1812theatre.com.au/