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CONFUSIONS (article first published : 2007-03-4)

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

A playwright doesn’t reach that level unless his or her work is rock-solid and the chance to appear in an Ayckbourn play is always welcomed by actors because the writing is of such a high standard.

At the Courtyard Theatre, a mix of third, second and first-year drama students are putting in consistent and focused performances in Confusions, Ayckbourn’s classic comedy collection of short stories that deals with the subject of loneliness. In a variety of little gems, originally written to be performed by five actors, Ayckbourn explores the desire for companionship and the need to be accepted.

In Mother Figure, Lucy is so wound up with her children that she has alienated her husband and constantly speaks in baby talk, a fact which an inquisitive neighbour and her volatile husband discover to their dismay. Drinking Companion, introduces us to Lucy’s lecherous salesman husband who we initially meet as he is trying to report a phone out of order and comes up with the infuriating recorded message and that inane music! He becomes progressively drunker as he tries to charm his companion – as well as her girlfriend - into his bed! The waiter in this scene appears again in Between Mouthfuls. A strong sense of timing is required here as Ayckbourn only lets the audience hear what the two couples are saying in the restaurant when the waiter is close to their tables.

Gosforth’s Fete is pure knockabout farce, robust and chaotic, where a charity fete goes horribly wrong. A garrulous stamp collector in A Talk in the Park tries to engage a young woman in conversation on a park bench, setting off an amusing chain reaction from the people sitting on benches nearby.

With a crisp clean touch, director Robin Singh has pulled good performances from his cast, altering Ayckbourn’s original intention to allow a larger number of students to perform. He has worked hard on articulation and projection and I am happy to say that, apart from Gosforth’s Fete which, admittedly, is the most hectic piece, I could hear every single word.

Special mention must be made of Freedom Ngema (the much put-upon husband in Mother Figure), Luke O’Gorman (an absolute delight as the snooty long-suffering waiter in Drinking Companion and trying to serve vegetables in the middle of a tirade in Between Mouthfuls), Musawenkosi Kumalo (the betrayed fiancé in Gosforth’s Fete), Samson Mlambo (the dithery pastor in Gosforth’s Fete), and Nomagugu Banda (the doddery old dear in A Talk in the Park).

A little niggle – if this is such a classy restaurant in Between Mouthfuls, I would suggest the table cloths be ironed beforehand! Another niggle, this one causing more concern, is that the surroundings of the Courtyard appear to be in a depressed state and little care is being taken in cleaning up the charming garden area. As the audience flows into this area before the show and during interval, it doesn’t do the image of DUT much good at the moment.

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




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