THE NORMAN CONQUESTS ****

A wonderfully written trilogy of plays with a cast that excels in beautifully rounded performances.  What more can we ask for?  Well, a beautifully designed set, tick.  Actually, three excellent sets, one for each of the plays, with costumes, music between the scenes and décor all sublimely suiting the production, more ticks!  

Alan Ayckbourn’s three interlinked plays take place within a 24-hour period. They all happen at virtually the same time with TABLE MANNERS set around a dining-table, LIVING TOGETHER in the living-room and ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN in the garden of the house in Sussex where Annie (Jemima Rooper) lives with her bed-ridden mother.  Arriving to stay with her are her brother Reg (Jonathan Broadbent) and his somewhat uptight wife, Sarah (Sarah Hadland), who will look after mother while Annie goes away for the weekend.

It doesn’t take long for Sarah to discover that Annie is going away with Norman, who is the husband of Annie and Reg’s sister Ruth!  Hovering around Annie is Tom (John Hollingworth) who appears fond of Annie but too indecisive to actually let her know this. When Norman (Trystan Gravelle) arrives, he causes disruption all round, with further annoyances caused by his wife Ruth (Hattie Ladbury). The action develops into a most difficult weekend for all. 

Each play shows the characters in a different light but with similar objectives.  The plays connect beautifully with something being picked up in one play and carried onto the next.
 
Blanche McIntyre directs with a good mind for comedy in the trilogy and she also catches the poignant, telling moments when the characters reveal more about themselves. She makes the most of the new configuration of the Chichester Festival Theatre which has been transformed into a ‘in-the-round’ with the audience surrounding the stage.

When I first saw the play in the West End following its premiere in Scarborough in 1973, it was performed in a more realistic style. Here the farcical element is well to the fore and the characters exaggerated.  However, the six members of the cast know how to put across Aykbourn’s superb dialogue and each one is carefully drawn to show the different elements of the characters. John Hollingworth is particularly good as Tom, dithering on the edge and never quite able to show his true feelings for Annie.   I liked Jonathan Broadbent’s Reg, a careful man who has invented an almost impregnatable board game.  All the actors are good in their roles and the plays are well worth seeing.  Although we are told that they can be seen in any order, I recommend watching ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN last.

Review by Carlie Newman

Chichester Festival Theatre. Until 28 October 2017
Dir. Blanche McIntyre
Box office 0124 3781 312

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