By Alan Ayckbourn
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Cast: Sarah Green, Ben Williams, Marie-Claire Costley, Brian Smith, Toby Harris.
Director: Simon H. West
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I settled into my seat for Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions. The stage bore a distinctly amateurish air for this first production by new theatre company andGO Productions and, unusually for a first night, the theatre was packed. The mainly middle-aged audience seemed eager for an evening of retro-drama.
Which is what was delivered. First performed in 1974, Confusions opened in London two years later, to great success. But thirty-nine years on, the language and social conventions seem as dated as the Oxford Bag trousers worn by actor, Ben Williams. All that were missing were his platform shoes. Director Simon H West chose to recreate the 1970’s era, attempting a faithful rendition of this old Ayckbourn favourite, right down to the music played between the five playlets.
In the first playlet, Mother Figure, the silent action on stage dragged for a little too long before Sarah Green launched into her performance of the motherly Lucy. The portrayal was irritating and the infantilising of her neighbours, slightly grating. But Green redeemed herself by immediately sliding superbly into the role of Paula in Drinking Companion, playing a perfect foil to Brian Smith’s seductive Harry. Smith gave his best performance as Harry, convincingly delivering his innuendo and corny chat-up lines. Ben Williams also exhibited excellent timing as the waiter artfully serving the two tables in Between Mouthfuls. The hilarious Gosforth’s Fete did not fail to raise a laugh, but it felt that the audience were anticipating the jokes, as if they were watching a favourite old comedy rerun.
The audience in general seemed to enjoy the nostalgia trip and at times it felt like watching an old television recording of Abigail’s Party. And while this may appeal to older audiences, it does little to attract the younger theatre goer to the work of such a prolific and experienced playwright. Here was the perfect opportunity to apply a lighter touch. If West had set the play in the present, he would have created an opportunity to show how relevant and perceptive Ayckbourn’s observations of human behaviour continue to be. It seemed that West missed a trick.
In more recent years, Ayckbourn’s plays have fallen from favour, consigned to amateur dramatic productions in which his well drawn characters are a dream for budding thespians. But the tide of taste is turning and Ayckbourn’s work is currently enjoying a revival, both in the provinces and London. His 2012 play Surprises is still on tour and in April, a new play, Relatively Speaking will be testing the waters at the Theatre Royal, Bath, before being launched in the West End in the spring. For andGO Productions, this may not have been the best play with which to launch their theatre company, but it provided a pleasant evening’s entertainment and a welcome opportunity to see some local acting talent.