Review: A masterclass of farce and more in Ayckbourn classic on Stratford stage

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Confusions, directed by David Mears at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford

Chaos reigns supreme in The Bear Pit Theatre Company’s tenth anniversary production of Alan Ayckbourn’s classic play. It is a beautifully crafted comedy, immaculate in its performance, touching and funny throughout in its themes.

Five loosely interconnected playlets revolve around the notion of confused intentions. We begin quietly. Four people sit each alone on four park benches. Suddenly another enters and starts an uninvited conversation about his or her troubles. Their listener, bored then a little disturbed, moves to another bench, where they start up another one-way conversation. And so on. It’s a hymn to loneliness, and here played out in a tender, gently humorous scenario, which builds to a climax in a crazed version of musical chairs.

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Swapping partners is one of the themes that runs through this play like a river both above and below ground. In the second scene Lucy Compton (Zoe Mortimer) is a harassed mother struggling to keep order between her two toddlers offstage. A knock at the door brings round nosey neighbour Rosemary (Charlotte Froud) who has called because Lucy hasn’t been seen around much lately. We soon find out why, but the humour of the piece comes from Lucy’s attempts to shepherd Rosemary and her husband Terry (Barry Purchase-Rathbone) in much the same way she does her children.

Another quick change and we’re in the bar of a seedy hotel that thrives on the custom of business travellers away from home. Now we find out the reason behind Lucy’s stress; her husband Harry (David Mears) is a would-be Casanova, desperately trying to chat up perfume saleswoman Paula (Jemima Davis) and her friend Bernice (Kristiyana Petkova). He fails, miserably, and by now we are getting the theme of lives unravelling, the infidelities behind the middle-class facades.

Things get more heated in the next scene, set in the same hotel restaurant, where pompous executive Donald Pearce (Graham Tyrer) is dining with his frosty wife Emma (Jane Grafton), a local councillor. He has been abroad, and she is well aware of what he has been up to. The other party in that particular ‘what’ just happens to be dining with her husband in the same restaurant, unbeknownst to them.

The heat is now on, leading up to the final, delicious scene set in a country fete-worse-than-death where Councillor Pearce is due to make the opening speech. We have lately come across instances of politicians being embarrassed through microphones left switched on. Well, so too in the village where the revelation of Milly’s (Lily Skinner) pregnancy to local publican Gordon (David Mears) is a shared out loud and clear across the playing field, much to the consternation of her hapless scout-master fiancée (Justin Osborne) and the gleeful smirking vicar (David Gresham). The scene climaxes in a farcical romp with a leaky tea urn that is funny, touching and expertly crafted. It was beautifully choreographed and a masterclass in slapstick.

Confusions gives you five plays for the price of one. David Mears is a master of comedy, and under his direction this play, which was the first produced by the Bear Pit Company, made for another fine evening out.

Confusions runs until April 9. Call 01789 333935 or visit thebearpit.org.uk to book.