See All Three by the Scheduled July 26 Closing
If there's a conventional way to approach the three plays comprising The Norman Conquests, directed on Broadway by Matthew Warchus, it might be to see them in one "trilogy day" starting with "Table Manners," proceeding to "Living Together," and finishing with "Round and Round the Garden."
But that's not at all how I went about it. I saw "Round and Round the Garden" first, on April 13, when the infamous Mr. Purple was in the audience. Then it was "Table Manners" on April 29. And I only completed the cycle last night with the relatively elusive "Living Together."
Now that I've finished seeing all three parts, you can count me as a satisfied customer (who, admittedly, managed to see all three at significant professional and consumer discounts, including a $59 per play ticket available through July 10 with the code JULY09).
Written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1973, The Norman Conquests involves three men and three women, three of them siblings, two others related by marriage, whose paths cross and recross during their stay at an English estate. Annie (Jessica Hynes), the primary caregiver to her mother, hopes to get away for the weekend while her brother Reg (Paul Ritter) and his wife Sarah (Amanda Root) take over her responsibilities. Also present are Annie's dim veterinarian neighbor Tom (Ben Miles), her rakish brother-in-law Norman (Stephen Mangan), and, eventually, her sister Ruth (Amelia Bullmore), Norman's wife.
Will Annie get away? Will Reg and Sarah be able to manage things? Will Tom come up with something interesting to say? Will Ruth put on her glasses? Will Norman behave himself? Those are some of the questions that arise as the characters interact over the course of the weekend in three distinct locations: the dining room ("Table Manners"), living room ("Living Together"), and garden ("Round and Round the Garden").
After I started with "Round and Round the Garden," The Norman Conquests struck me as great light summer fare. But in "Table Manners" I saw some of the relationships and dialogue taking on more substance—still great light summer fare, but more substantial. Ultimately, after seeing "Living Together" (which strikes me as the quirkiest and most playful of the trilogy), I was impressed by Ayckbourn's skill at fleshing out his comic situations with passionate outbursts indicating his characters' personal and family dilemmas. The more you see of the trilogy, the more you can appreciate different facets of the characters as they try to get through what turns out to be an awfully complicated weekend.
Do you remember the television version of The Norman Conquests? Here are three excerpts—of course, you can pick the order in which you view them! I'm struck by how Beatles-y Tom Conti's Norman comes across. It explains a lot about those times.
ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN