Ayckbourn's Confusions at the BT
Studio offers its audience variations on the vagaries and difficulties
of communication. Although it dates only from 1974, the intervening
years have seen such changes in our expectations of the way we talk to
and about one another that some of the attitudes on display seem really
Corpus Christi Owlets have chosen three of the five playlets that make up the whole of Confusions, and in them the human urge to communicate comes over loud and clear, though unsurprisingly compromised if not stymied by frailty of character in the guise of self-absorption, with its consequent inattention to other people's feelings that amounts almost to cruelty. So the fraught and infantilized Lucy, worn down by childcare duties and living permanently in her dressing gown, discovers a simple yet effective way of dealing with her nosy neighbours – turning them into them naughty children needing their noses wiped and their bottoms smacked. This material rather set the tone for the whole – neither quite interesting nor quite funny enough, and there were problems of basic audibility and diction that were surprising given the tiny Studio space. But I liked Miriam Tomusk's misplaced neighbourly concern.
The scene now shifted – commendably smartly – to a business-class hotel where Joshua Fine's Harry, a boozy would-be Lothario, was on the prowl for a hook-up and not too fussy whether the key to his room was picked up by Paula (Aisling Taylor) or her colleague (Mary Lobo). The search for communication, both verbal and sexual, was almost pitiful to behold as the words poured out of Harry and we squirmed in our seats at the crassness and egotism of it all. The problem here was twofold: the stream of verbiage was neither captivating nor – again – funny enough, and the passivity of his two bored listeners all the more surprising. The script here showed its age badly since behavioural attitudes and gender politics have moved on so far and so fast in the intervening 44 years that the whole set-up seemed, to me anyway, merely gross. Aisling Taylor's part here hardly stretched her, but she suggested latent talent.
In the third segment, we moved on to a restaurant where two couples united by a hidden connection are having lunch. The presence of a would-be comic waiter is a linking device, but in this one the roadblock to communication is provided by a misunderstanding of identity, that mainstay of comedy and farce, and the characteristic Ayckbourn trick of cross-cutting conversations, here between the two dining tables. The direction (Caleb Barron and Jake Rich) of the switches from table to table and of the menu ordering was hardly snappy enough to avoid some flat spots, so that when the revelation arrived it fell a bit flat. But there was opportunity to commend the acting of Hugo Cook, and I especially enjoyed the energy of Mary Lobo, both here and in segment 2, who ought to go on to bigger roles in the future.
The Owlets have made a decent attempt here on material
that's out of the ordinary for Oxford student drama just now - it seems
almost bizarre to describe an Ayckbourn play thus. But there's no
reason why student companies should be trooping after one another to
drink from the very same water-hole, so in a sense there was pleasant
originality on offer here.