Consuming Passions: Frequently Asked QuestionsAlan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd's answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alan Ayckbourn's Consuming Passions.
What is the correct interpretation of the play? What is really happening?
Whilst there is a certain amount of ambiguity within Consuming Passions and Alan Ayckbourn hopes the audience will draw their own conclusions about what is happening to Melanie, the author has a preferred explanation as to what is happening to his protagonist.
Melanie is not well and suffers hallucinations. She is not seeing the future and a plot to murder Cedric, it is all within her mind and a manifestation of her illness and her unrequited love for Cedric.
The clues are planted subtly throughout the course of the first act largely with regards to her family. Melanie has obviously been to the restaurant before to await her husband - John - and he has never joined her. She also suddenly announces to the waiter her son - David - and girlfriend will be joining them with no apparent external motivation; her description of her overachieving son and girlfriend sounds far too good to be true.
Melanie's reaction to the revelation the mysterious woman is Cora is also telling. It makes explicit that Melanie has strong feelings for Cedric and that she is not entirely rational when it comes to her feelings about Cora and the fact she is with Cedric when Melanie patently believes she should be with him.
During the second act, it is made explicit by Cedric that Melanie has been ill previously and suffered hallucinations. The big clue is also the most subtle, Melanie transposes the name of her husband and son. She tells Cedric, David is her husband and John is her son, whilst the photo on her desk of her son is, obviously, an actual photo of the young George Clooney. It is also made clear that Melanie has unrequited feelings for Cedric and is unable to accept Cedric would accept Cora over her. It is also made clear that Melanie has been threatening Cora through correspondence and has been in front of a judge who has has told her she could face jail if she keeps harassing Cora.
The final clues take place at the police station, when the PC makes clear that she is in far more trouble than she realises; obviously if she has broken the terms of a restraining order, she could be jailed if Cora pressed charges. Melanie's fantasy is also at its most transparent when her wish-fulfilment apparently comes true with Cedric coming to rescue her and being far more attentive and attracted to her than we saw previously.
The final line of the play is also the answer, although it is deliberately ambiguous. Whilst, superficially, the line "Oh God, it's happening to me again… It's all happening to me again." could be referring to the events of the first act and that she's seeing the future, the more likely explanation for the line is she realises she is hallucinating again and none of what she is experiencing is real.
While I accept the author intends for Melanie to be suffering hallucinations, could something else be happening to her?
The interpretation of the play is, of course, in the hands of the audience. So, yes, there is enough doubt within the play to suggest Melanie could be seeing the future and there is a plot to murder Cedric. It is rather tenuous though and largely centres on the fact that Melanie tells Cedric that his would-be-assassin and Cora's personal trainer is called Freddy, which Cora later confirms. However, there is no reason to believe that Melanie was not aware of this information from when she worked with Cora, that it's just a coincidence - or, perhaps more disturbingly - she has been following Cora and has found out the information there. After all, she has already been taken to court for harassing Cora.
With regards to what she experiences in the 'future', the existence of two real people who shouldn't be there could be taken as evidence she has seen the future. On the other hand, we know she has visited the restaurant before and may well have seen the other waiter during those visits. With regard to the female PC in the final scene, she does not explicitly identify the woman and it's perfectly reasonable that there isn't a female PC working that night but could be the next day.
Melanie's final line could, as mentioned above, also be interpreted as referring to her suffering premonitions again.
Is Consuming Passions one play or two plays?
Consuming Passions is a single play in two parts. Alan Ayckbourn considers it to be his 80th full-length work. In its structure, it is thus not dis-similar to The Revengers' Comedies which is in two parts which have to both be seen for the complete narrative to be resolved.
Can I see them separately?
Whilst it is uncertain how they will be presented in the future, their original production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2016 did offer that option. Each part / act was produced separately in the Bistro at the venue. You could see one part or both parts and, theoretically, in either order….
Can I see the parts in either order?
Again, theoretically yes. The problem is, they wouldn't make much sense as this is a continuous narrative with Premonitions leading into Repercussions. The plot does not make much sense the other way round. Ideally though, Consuming Passions will be presented complete from this point forward as just one play.
Is Consuming Passions Alan Ayckbourn's 80th full-length play?
Yes. Although it was not initially advertised as such, this was purely because Alan Ayckbourn did not wish the Stephen Joseph Theatre to make a fuss of him reaching his 80th play; he has never been fond of the fixation with numbering the plays. Once the play had been promoted and was in production, the playwright made it clear in several published interviews and to his archivist, that Consuming Passions was definitely his 80th play.
Is the restaurant featured in the first act of Consuming Passions, the same restaurant as seen in Time Of My Life?
Probably not. Although two of the waiters from Time Of My Life - Aggi and Dinka - are seen in Consuming Passions, the impression is this is an entirely different bistro. In the script for Consuming Passions, the venue is named the Ristorante Calvinu and in Time Of My Life, it is the Essa de Calvi. There is also the fact that Time Of My Life is explicitly set in the north of England, whilst the restaurant in Consuming Passions is explicitly stated as being in Clapham. The probable answer to this - given the re-use of characters working in a restaurant explicitly linked to Calvinu, the owner of the Essa de Calvi - is Calvinu has expanded his business and Aggi and Dinka have moved to London to make their fortune in this branch of the restaurant.
All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.