BWW REVIEW: THE NORMAN CONQUESTS Are A Hilarious And Poignant Trio Of Tales That Can Be Enjoyed Individually Or In Totality.
LIVING TOGETHER, Saturday 17th November 2018, 4:30pm
ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN, Saturday 17th November 2018, 8:15pm
TABLE MANNERS, Sunday 18th November 2018, 5pm
TABLE MANNERS, LIVING TOGETHER, and ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN piece together to form the intriguing triptych of THE NORMAN CONQUESTS. Directed by Mark Kilmurry, Alan Ayckbourn's brilliant work is presented with heart and humor as passions rise, personalities clash and the dangers of trying to please everyone plays out across three spaces in the one home.
The three works, which can be viewed as stand-alone plays, present a fabulous fly on the wall view of the goings on at one country home over the space of a weekend. Each work is centered around a single space of the home. TABLE MANNERS naturally relates to the dining room whilst LIVING TOGETHER centers on the sitting room and ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN remains outside in the overgrown English cottage garden. The overarching premise is that youngest daughter Annie (Matilda Ridgway) has decided she wants a weekend away from looking after her cantankerous invalid mother so her brother, the amiable Reg (Brian Meegan) and his wife, the uptight and obnoxious Sarah (Danielle Carter) have sent their kids away to relatives so they can come down and take over for the weekend. What Annie hasn't told them, or her neighbor and pseudo-boyfriend, the dimwitted and socially inept veterinarian Tom (Sam O'Sullivan), is that she has plans to meet up with Norman (Yalin Ozucelik), a self-appointed Lothario, for a dirty weekend. The problem isnt so much the need for escape but the fact that Norman is married to Annie's sister, the career climbing Ruth (Rachel Gordon). Of course Annie's plans go awry and all six find themselves under the same roof for the weekend, a feat usually left for Christmas or their mother's birthday and there is good reason for the infrequency of family gatherings.
The intimate space of the Ensemble's thrust stage theatre is a perfect venue to experience this domestic story and designer Hugh O'Connor transforms the space into the three locations with incredible detail for works that are presented in repertory. For LIVING TOGETHER, O'Connor creates an intricate country sitting room from the 1970's, reflecting that the inhabitants aren't rich but also aren't struggling. The furniture is an eclectic mix with lounge and armchair arranged around a central shag pile rug providing a 'cosy' spot in front of the fire place. For TABLE MANNERS the carpet and lounge make way for a 6-seater dining table with only four remaining seats and a sideboard filled with a mismatch of crockery that has survived the years. Transforming the space for ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN, the parquetry flooring of the sitting room and dining room is covered with unkept grass, complete with the occasional weed and paving stones and a boarder of flowers typical of an English country garden provides a pretty outlook for the central two seater garden bench.
The work is brilliantly executed with incredible performances that capture the humor of the often-relatable bickering family and also the ridiculousness of the physicality of the situations that arise. Whilst Ayckbourn did not intend for there to be any particular order to the three plays TABLE MANNERS is often seen first but for these reviews LIVING TOGETHER was the introduction to the trilogy. This introduction to the story sat well as a complete story in itself with questions raised through the course of the three days covered seemingly addressed. It is clear though that the work does tie in to the other two plays as the couple next to me sent a roar of knowing laughter from time to time having seen TABLE MANNERS previously. Kilmurry has ensured that the works have a good pace, allowing moments of silence to hold when necessary and at other times ensuring that the arguments build realistically. The cast assembled, which cover all three stories, work wonderfully together and utilize the intimate space to optimum advantage, knowing that little gestures and pointed looks will easily be captured by the audience. Kilmurry blends in the absurdity of real life which in combination with the various personalities leads to moments of ridiculous physical comedy such as Norman's drunken stumbles and Ruth's frustration with garden furniture.
Matilda Ridgway is endearing as the younger sister frustrated at being the one left to look after the unseen mother. Her facial expressions as she deals with the dopey Tom are brilliant and her tone is such that she can infuse passion in her presentation along with the sense of wanting to maintain a degree of peace within the family. Whilst the work is an ensemble piece and the title references Norman, Annie feels like the more central character to some degree, partly driven by the structure as Annie being the permanent resident whilst the others are guests, and Ridgway's performance that has her as the core character that draws sympathy.
Yalin Ozucelik captures Norman's "oversexed sheepdog" spirit which seems to be his allure given that he isn't the stereotypical image of a playboy as he sports a shaggy beard and an ever present beanie to top off his scruffy look. Ozucelik drops the insults and barbs, often directed at the uptight Sarah and the oblivious Tom, with such an ease that he maintains Norman's likable image and makes it harder for the audience to judge his antics. His wife Ruth is presented with a businesslike efficiency and acceptance of her husband's behavior by Rachel Gordon. Gordon gives an air of a powerful corporate climber in contrast to assistant librarian Norman's lackadaisical nature presenting a ying/yang type dynamic and an odd tolerance potentially drawn from her more progressive views on relationships.
Annie and Ruth's brother Reg is given a caring and calming nature by Brian Meegan as the older man avoids conflict and perpetually tries to entertain, from bad jokes and inventive board games. Meegan captures the essence of a henpecked husband who still stoically stands by his wife despite knowing her flaws. Danielle Carter ensures that Reg's wife Sarah is as unlikable as possible as she bullies everyone around whilst moaning about her life and dishes out insults and judgements while really not being better than anyone else.
Sam O'Sullivan is fabulous at ensuring that neighbor and local veterinarian Tom is seen as a socially awkward individual with no clue of how to woo a woman, a flaw that Norman seeks to exploit. He ensures that Tom is a recognizable character even with his exaggerated inability to pick up on any social cues and unintended insults and offensive behavior which serves to heighten the humor.
THE NORMAN CONQUESTS is an enjoyable and intriguing theatre experience particularly if you have the time to catch all three shows and revel in the added amusement of watching the puzzle pieces fall into place. A fabulous mystery that explores human nature and family dynamics as relationships are tested, patience stretched and promiscuity pondered whilst the need to belong is proven to be eternal. Though fashions may have changed since THE NORMAN CONQUESTS was written in 1973, the human interactions havent ensuring this timeless work is appealing to all audiences.
THE NORMAN CONQUESTS