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CONFUSIONS (article first published : 2007-02-18)

The first production of the year for the ever-busy DUT Drama Department is the classic comedy, Confusions by Sir Alan Ayckbourn to be directed by Robin Singh. It will be staged at the Courtyard Theatre from March 3 to 10.

Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE is one of Britain’s most popular and prolific playwrights having written and produced some 70 plays and 20 revues for children in Scarborough and London. He is frequently cited as the second most-performed English language playwright after William Shakespeare. Ayckbourn is the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, in Scarborough. Almost all of his plays receive their first performance there and more than 40 have subsequently been produced in the West End.

“If one was to generalize about Alan’s large body of work over five decades, it would be that he writes about men and women, their relationships and their general inability to live with each other,” says biographer Simon Murgatroyd.

Confusions is a comedy made up of five interlinked one-act plays, which were originally written to be performed by five actors, and range in genre from naturalism to stylisation to farce. The plays include Mother Figure (a mother unable to escape from baby talk), Drinking Companion (an unsuccessful seduction attempt), Between Mouthfuls (a disastrous dinner encounter), Gosforth’s Fete (an equally disastrous social function), and A Talk In The Park (a group of selfish and self-centred characters on park benches).

“The characters we encounter are often at odds with each other, and the situations in which they find themselves. Underlying the comedy is the human dilemma of loneliness, the basic desire for companionship, and the need to be accepted,” says director Robin Singh. “The plays offer us an opportunity to become eavesdroppers on people and situations, and the problems they face, and these become symbols of universal insecurities and anxieties. We have all at some time encountered such people in our lives – perhaps even displaying some similar characteristics ourselves.”

Alan Ayckbourn is perhaps better known for his pieces Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests, both of which earned him awards. Having worked as an assistant stage manager and performer, he is very much an actor’s playwright who uses the craft and technique of the stage to give some of his work an additional theatrical dimension.

Between Mouthfuls in the Confusions collection of plays is a clear example. Picture two couples at two separate tables in a restaurant. While the couples talk animatedly throughout the scene, their dialogue is only audible when the waiter is present at each of the tables, serving and conversing with the patrons. Needless to say this requires impeccable comic timing, especially when the story reaches its climax and some of the characters’ secrets are revealed.

Gosforth’s Fete on the other hand, is pure farce. Anyone who has organised a fete or fund raising event, either singly or by committee, will recognise the potential for disaster – a faulty PA system, the revelation of a secret affair, a tea urn that can’t be shut off, a drunken companion, the electrocution of a public figure, and the weather that goes horribly wrong - all in one act.

“Our production deviates from Ayckbourn’s original intention of using only five actors who doubled up on the various roles,” explains Robin Singh. “We use a full complement of 21 actors who play individual characters, the only exception being the Waiter who moves from one act into the next as the same character. As a Drama Department with many student actors in training, I feel that this is a better approach as it offers a greater opportunity for more actors to participate in the one production. The cast is made up of first, second and third year students.

“It was also necessary to make some minor changes by way of the characters’ names, situations, and place references,” he adds, “making them that much more recognisable and identifiable.”

Confusions runs at the Courtyard Theatre at the Durban University of Technology in Mansfield Road from March 3 to 10 (no show on March 4) at 19h00. Tickets R30 available at the door (discounts for students and senior citizens). More information from the Drama Studies Dept on 031 204 2194.




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