first night


Carrie Gaunt reviews HCTC's 'Confusions'

 Confusions is a bright and breezy collection of short comic plays from comic playwright par excellence, Alan Ayckbourne. All five plays are quintessential Ayckbourne - family disputes, social awkwardness, the perils of married life and others are dissected in all their ridiculousness, making for a madcap couple of hours of classic farce (vicar included). It's a fantastic choice of script and by and large HCTC have done it justice in creating an evening of fun to warm up even the chilliest of Durham evenings. There are, however, some issues and a certain carelessness inherent in this production which prevent it from being quite as enjoyable as it should be.

There is a regrettable tendency among some cast members to read 'farce' as 'pantomime' - licence to overact and generally disregard the basic fundaments of good theatre, vocal clarity in particular. Benjamin Butterworth, although he clearly enjoys his role as Terry, is both practically incomprehensible and completely unbelievable because his performance is over-exaggerated and caricatured beyond any semblance of reality. There was also a frankly bizarre tendency among most cast members to preface lines with an enormous intake of breath, or end with a gusty sigh, which just didn't make sense at all and was so over-used as to become irritating. On the other hand, the production boasts some performers who are so outstanding as to practically eclipse any moments of weakness. Ellis-anne Dunmall plays her moments of awkward comedy beautifully so that they are consistently hilarious rather than squirmingly embarassing. Will Clarke is always at his best in physical comedy and more than does himself justice as Gordon Gosforth. Although his manic characterisation does lead to occasional garbling of lines, it is an energetic, engaging and, fundamentally, a fun performance, pitched just right for one of the most classically farcical and physical shorts of the evening.

Nick Denton plays his lecherous businessman as a sort of modern day Bertie Wooster, with facial elasticity to match, and the results are stunning - Denton was my personal star of the show, both hilarious and, throughout, impressively natural. I did feel that his performance seemed to sag perceptibly towards the end of his piece, but considering the full-blooded panache with which he attacked the role from the outset perhaps this was only to be expected. Furthermore, Denton was essentially the only dramatic impetus carrying his piece, as co-stars Lucinda Redfern and Olivia Race unfortunately misjudged 'disinterested' and instead came across as monotonous. As it is neither could match Denton in their individual performances and it was left to Denton to carry the piece, with the result that the finished product was not as sparkling as it really should have been. This did seem to be an issue with a lot of the vignettes: performers acting as comic foil just didn't seem quite certain how to pitch their performances. It is wrong to believe that playing an inherently 'smaller' and less overtly physical character means you cannot still be energetic and committed to your performance. You still have to be firing on all cylinders - if not the entire performance will fall flat.

Some of the technical elements of this show really let the performers down. I can't say a lot about the set because there wasn't a lot of set to say anything about, although this does seem a little facetious since performing five plays in five radically different settings obviously necessitates a malleable set. However, set changes needed to be a lot slicker and at times the lack of attention to detail and realism was frustrating, for example not providing ANY food at all in the restaurant scene, making the climatic spilling-of-food-on-husband-by-enraged-wife moment fairly insipid. I appreciate that providing the referenced dover sole on the bone would be a bridge too far on a student theatre budget but I thought watching the four actors mime cutting up food on their plates was a particularly weak moment. That particular piece (the fourth of the evening) also suffered from awkward moments of silence when Pete Lock's waiter was forced to consistently wander backstage to fetch various props - I found myself thinking it would surely have been easier to have all the necessary accoutrements placed on stage within reach rather than let the pace sag as the audience watched the actors gesture silently to each other.

For the most part, I did enjoy Confusions - the pacy, effervescent script was a real gift to the performers and the majority did it justice. It was certainly an evening of fun but it did have its weak spots. And whilst farcical comedy is, as I see it, supposed to provide pure enjoyment above all, I still feel that to neglect important universal aspects of theatre leads to unacceptable holes in a performance.


1 December 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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