Limited amount of tickets are now available for 2014 performances of The Norman Conquests. Buy now
"Delicious comedy", "An enormously rich and wonderful theatrical experience" - TORONTO STAR
As seen from the dining room, a secretive dirty weekend away for the affable librarian Norman turns into a series of misunderstandings, trysts, and hilarious revelations when his wife unexpectedly arrives, asking questions. A comic feast where chairs and food are scarce, but laughs are served aplenty.
The Norman Conquests are conceived to be enjoyed individually or in any combination.
Round and Round the Garden
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes. There will be one 20 minute intermission.
Derek Boyes, Reg
Laura Condlln, Annie
Oliver Dennis, Tom
Sarah Mennell, Ruth
Fiona Reid, Sarah
Albert Schultz, Norman
Ted Dykstra, Director
Ken MacKenzie, Set Designer
Patrick Clark, Costume Designer
Louise Guinand, Lighting Designer
Creighton Doane, Composer & Sound Designer
Simon Fon, Fight Director
Diane Pitblado, Dialect Coach
Nancy Dryden, Production Stage Manager
Janet Gregor, Assistant Stage Manager
Kelly McEvenue, Alexander Coach
Jordana Weiss, Apprentice Stage Manager
By Paula Wing, Resident Artist
The idea for The Norman Conquests came to Alan Ayckbourn in the spring of 1973, at the height of the so-called sexual revolution. The three ingeniously interlocking plays of this hilarious and tender trilogy follow six characters over the same weekend. Each play is set in a different part of a country house: Table Manners unfolds in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden in... the out of doors. Even Ayckbourn himself admitted that he couldn't imagine why he'd undertaken "this most ambitious and, frankly, seemingly uncommercial project."
A less resourceful writer would've given up before he even started. First of all, for practical reasons, Ayckbourn had to ensure that each play could stand independently while still piquing the audience's curiosity about – and desire to see – the other plays. The plays had to be able to be seen in any order. He was restricted to six characters and two entrances. Finally, because the actor Ayckbourn wanted to play Norman couldn't join the company for the first few days of rehearsal, the character of Norman had to have a late entrance in Table Manners.
To say that the playwright thrived under these strictures would be an understatement. He exploded with wit and invention. He created six memorable, beautifully nuanced and detailed characters. He wove the three stories into the theatrical equivalent of a novel. And he wrote all three plays in less than a month. Perhaps even more remarkably, he wrote them "crosswise. That is to say I started with Scene One of Round and Round the Garden, then the Scene One's of the other two plays and so on through the Scene Two's."
The strength – and the thrill of Soulpepper's staging of all three plays – lies in the accumulation of detail, the way something that happens in one play is echoed or completed in another. What looks at first like a straight farce reveals itself to be not only deeper, richer, and more satisfying but also – amazingly – much funnier too. We get to know this flawed, appealing family so well. We watch them connect and disconnect, behave badly, desire inappropriately and struggle mightily. Ayckbourn makes their difficulties achingly poignant and absolutely hilarious at the same time: when one character is asked if she's happy, she answers: "Yes. Mostly. Occasionally. Now and then. I don't know."
New York Times critic Frank Rich described these plays as "impossibly wise about sex, marriage, love and loneliness." Take advantage of this rare opportunity to see and savour them all. And remember, you can start anywhere. When Ayckbourn was asked which play one should start with, he replied: "It's better to see all of them first."
By Toby Malone, Ph.D
The dining room: a place of order, of collegiality, of family warmth. It's a room in which we eat, converse, catch up on our day: perhaps it's a room that's saved for guests and tchotchkes in a buffet hutch. To have a separate dining room is a privilege; very often it is an over-worn dramaturgical cliché to set a play around a dysfunctional dinner party and the shenanigans that the seating arrangement encourages. In Table Manners, Alan Ayckbourn kicks off his The Norman Conquests trilogy in a room characterised both for its high traffic at mealtimes and its relative seclusion at other times, when the living room and kitchen are more popular. Ayckbourn designed the piece to be staged in the round, offering angle from all sides of the misadventures of the loveable philanderer, Norman, as he attempts to negotiate his fellow houseguests to complete a naughty weekend away from his wife. Most strikingly, Table Manners is written to run parallel to the two other parts of The Norman Conquests, where Living Together and Round and Round the Garden take place simultaneously in other parts of the property. Each segment of The Norman Conquests is designed to be independent of each other, so it makes no difference what order they are viewed. An audacious style of storytelling that is characteristic of Ayckbourn's writing, Table Manners is an uproarious evening around the dining room table.
The Norman Conquests were Ayckbourn's first attempt at writing a multi-segmented play, which, according to his exhaustive official website (www.alanayckbourn.net) had its origins in a flippant remark to an enquiring journalist, which became truth once the story was published and the playwright was forced to follow it up. Ayckbourn premiered the plays - written simultaneously - at the Library Theatre in Scarborough, UK, as is his custom, before transferring the piece to the West End. Over the interceding years, all three plays have been produced world-over, including a very successful Tony Award-winning run on Broadway in 2009.