These five playlets may have first appeared more than 40 years ago, but their potency, sting and humanity are equally relevant today.
Audiences love Confusions for its honesty and humour, but actors too seem to relish the sheer diversity of the demands each element makes on their professional skills.
After all, how many shows challenge one actor to portray an increasingly drunk salesman, a business executive who finds out his wife is having an affaire with his boss, a vicar at a chaotic garden fête and a misunderstood occupant of a park bench?
The second of the five, Drinking Companions, has male members of the audience squirming in recognition as Harry, Richard Stacey, tries desperately to impress the much younger Paula, Emma Manton, and Bernice, Elizabeth Boag, watched by an impassive waiter, Stephen Billington?
Stephen Billington’s ability to steal a show spills over into Between Mouthfuls where, again as a waiter, he has little to say, but his movement speaks volumes of his contempt for the diners.
The evening’s entertainment peaks with the fourth play of the cycle: Gosforth’s Fête where the fifth member of the ensemble – Russell Dixon – comes to the fore.
Alan Ayckbourn’s genius for farce plays at full throttle with an unexpected pregnancy broadcast to an entire show ground, a sozzled scout master, dodgy electrics and off stage mayhem involving a brass band and a cub pack.
Some productions have been known to stop at the this point and leave the audience laughing.
To do so is surely to miss the point.
Yes, there is huge fun to be had with these human peccadilloes but there is the uncomfortable feeling of lives blighted by mutualincomprehension and a final line like, “Might as well talk to yourself” punctures the hilarity.
Confusions is part of the Stephen Joseph’s 60th anniversry season. It runs in the repertory, on various dates, until Saturday September 26.
The Woman in Black, with father and son, runs on various dates until August 2.
Ayckbourn’s new play Hero’s Welcome premieres in September. It will run from September 4 to October 3.
Review by Mike Tilling