Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A sideways look at relationships


Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


ALAN Ayckbourn's stage world is one firmly planted in suburbia and the foibles of middle class relationships and married life and Confusions gives us five slices of that particular cake.

It is five vaguely interconnected one act plays set around 21 different characters, with Mrs Pearce in two plays, who are played by an excellent cast of five.

The interconnection is only really clear in the first two opening with Mother Figure with Femke Witney as harassed –as in harassed as a hatter – mum-of-three Lucy whose husband is usually away on business; Lucy spends every waking hour looking after her children and has no time for answering the phone or doorbell or even changing from her dressing gown.

Femke Witney as Beryl with Ian Mason as Charles

Next door neighbour Rosemary, played by Barbara Walter, comes round to see if she is all right and then drags in male chauvinist husband Terry, played by Ian Mason, when she realises she is dealing with a raving loony.

Lucy has become is used to only dealing with children that she treats Rosemary and Terry as middle aged toddlers until they escape.

Drinking Companions introduces us to Harry, played by Paul Bellamy who shines throughout this production

Harry is Lucy's husband, a rep for ladies fashion, with an eye, if not much else, for the girls and a line of chat that would have even the members of One Direction struggling – a mix of corn and desperation. Harry is on the road and on the pull, or at least he thinks he is, in a run down rep's hotel bar.

In the hunt for expense account sex he is chatting up Paula, played by Femke after a quick change, a perfume demonstrator and, later, her colleague Bernice, Barbara again.

Paula, waiting for Bernice, is trying hard to be polite and to resist the randy bull in a china shop advances of Harry who, failing in the charm(less) offensive moves on to Plan B, the old favourite of getting Paula legless and then, hopefully, horizontal. Sadly, for him at least, the only one who ends up in the proverbial newt territory is Harry and his steady, gradual descent into drunkenness along with his cringemaking attempts at would be lothario produce some fine acting from both Bellamy and Femke before the waiter, Christopher Broadfield assists the girls in their escape.

In the next playlet, In Between Mouthfuls, the link is supposed to be that the scene is in the restaurant of the same hotel but that is never clear, not that it matters as Bellamy arrives as the grumpy, brusque Donald Pearce, boss of a . . . firm, we never did discover what they did, to meet his wife, Emma, played by Barbara again, for dinner.

Enter another couple with Martin, played by Broadfield and his wife Polly, Femke again. When they see Pearce a worried Polly wants to leave but Martin is determined to stay and in a clever three way conversation cutting from couple to couple, linked by the oh so correct waiter, Mason again. Mason's timing is impeccable as he carries on as if nothing had happened  - “potatoes ma'am?”  - as domestic warfare unfold around him.

Mason as Charles again with Barbara Walters as Doreen

A mention too for Chris Harper on lights switching spots from table to table right on cue for the best part of 20 minutes.

Polly has just returned from a holiday alone for three weeks while Pearce has just returned from a business trip in Rome for three weeks, so you don't need to be a paid up member of Mensa to fill in the dots. The . . . dots . . . results in both Mrs Pearce and, less predictable, Polly storming out a rage but for very different reasons with Martin showing a side that must throw doubt upon his eligibility as a red-bloodied male.

In Gosforth's Fete Coun Mrs Emma Pearce, Barbara again, remerges as the celebrity guest to open the fete organised by publican Gosforth, played by Mason. Milly, Femke again, is sorting out the teas in the tea tent while Gosforth is organising a fete that is about to open and is nowhere near ready  . . . oh, and the heavens are just about to open.

While Gosforth is trying to sort out the stubbornly dead PA system, Milly drops a rather personal bombshell. Unfortunately Gosforth's attempts to repair the PA had been successful which means Milly's rather personal and intimate announcement has been broadcast to the entire village . . . oops.

This brings in her furious, devastated fiancé, cub master Stewart, played by Broadfield who doesn't normally drink but manages to sink a bottle of sherry to drown his sorrows with unfortunate results. We also have the vicar, wonderfully played by Ballamy, who is wetter than the downpour outside while Coun Pearce manages to give a shorter but much livelier speech then expected when she touches the microphone and is electrocuted as the whole fate descends into chaos.

The final playlet sees all five cast sitting on four benches in what is meant to be the same park as the fete in A Talk in the Park.

Bellamy is Paul who sits next to Beryl, played by Femke, and rattles on about being alone until she moves to sit next to Charles, Mason, to tell him she had to move as she was reading a letter from an abusive husband until he escapes to sit next to Doreen, Barbara, to give her his views of the young and life in general until she moves on to Ernest, Broadfield, to tell him about how she left her husband because she wanted a dog.

Ernest, played by Christopher Broadfield, with Paul Bellamy as Arthur in A Talk in The Park

 Ernest in turn moves to sit next to Arthur moaning about how the mad woman was talking to him which starts another round which all ends with Arthur declaring to no one in particular that “you might as well talk to yourself”.

Helen Lammas, the director keeps a fairly tight hold of the five plays although apart from the first two, the links were hard to see between the rest – perhaps a switch in cast with the same actor as bar tender and waiter in the second and third episodes would have made it clearer but that is a technical point and hardly detracts from the enjoyment provided by a fine cast.

We obviously know it is the same actors but they manage to create very different characters with different mannerisms and accents with every appearance.

This was Sir Alan's 17th play and although it explores relationships and misfits only the final scene has any sort of conclusion, the rest are just episodes, a mother who can no longer interact with adults, a lecherous rep with more hope than success, a cuckolded husband and his boss and a fete that sinks in the mud give you a feeling you are left high and dry. The scenes are set but you never find out what happens.

That is not the fault of cast or director though who produce an entertaining evening deserving of a bigger audience  with some easily recognised characters and situations laced with plenty of laughs.To 24-08-13.

Roger Clarke

Next production: Calendar Girls, 1 Oct to 5 Oct 2013

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