Original member Ted Dykstra directs a cast of old and new faces at Soulpepper Theatre in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests: Living Together. A farcical rendering of marital dysfunction at its finest, Living Together, the second of three parts of The Norman Conquests, reminds its audience of the best and—oftentimes—worst of family gatherings.
British born Ayckbourn creates six vastly unique characters, infusing each of them with varying degrees of wit and tact to great comical effect. Three sets of couples, including a pair of sisters, together for a weekend in the country, are quickly connected by more than just family ties. As a result, they all need a getaway from the weekend getaway. Petty banter turns to jests, and jests turn to insults as Ayckbourn’s characters snipe at each other from across the living room – some shots hitting their targets with utmost perfection, others misfiring completely, most often in hilarious fashion.
In their Soulpepper debuts, Sarah Mennell and Laura Condlln as sisters Ruth and Annie both display excellent comedic timing and do not look out of place alongside Soulpepper stalwarts. Founding member and long-time artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre, Albert Schultz, shines in the title role of sarcastic librarian Norman, giving a varied performance that combines brute force with subtle mockery. Derek Boyes and Fiona Reid, as married couple Reg and Sarah, remind everyone in the audience of the type of marriage that seems doomed to fail but manages to somehow survive.
The undisputed star of the show, whether his name is in the title or not, is the dimwitted Tom, played by Soulpepper veteran Oliver Dennis. Playing a fool is no easy task in theatre or in film, and Dennis makes Tom a believable imbecile, one with as many nuances and subtleties as the other more “complex” characters in the play.
The close proximity provided by the Michael Young Theatre’s theatre-in-the-round set up lends the play an extra hand in establishing the comfort and homely vibe of the living room arrangement. Ken MacKenzie’s stage design is a relaxing version of the room we all grew up in, and its immediacy to the audience only adds to that feeling of warmth and comfort.
While the performances are almost unquestionably authentic, the inconsistent accents and lackadaisical physicality in what little violence occurs reduces the overall realism to a degree. Some fine-tuning in these two areas would have elevated the authenticity tremendously.
Overall, Ayckbourn’s wordplay is in full force in Soulpepper Theatre’s Living Together. For fans of British humour, this is not to be missed.
The Norman Conquests: Living Together is running at Soulpepper Theatre until November 16. The three parts of The Norman Conquest are meant to be enjoyed separately, or altogether. Tickets range from $51-68. Tickets are available online at www.thesoulpepper.ca or by phone at 416.866.8666.