Emilia Di Luca
Garden: an otherwise tranquil space if Norman (Albert Schultz), a goofy and unfaithful husband, didn’t begin his conquest in it. Rather than housing flowers, the garden hosts drunk rants, awkward make-outs and frustrating conversations— the results of Norman’s conquest.
Round and Round the Garden is the final play in Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquests. Soulpepper produces all three British plays, including Table Manners and Living Together, directed by Ted Dykstra. Although these farces can stand alone, they form a trilogy linked by a consistent plot.
Round and Round the Garden follows a dysfunctional family of three couples. Norman shuns his wife Ruth (Sarah Mennell in her Soulpepper debut) as he romances his sisters-in-law, Annie (Laura Condlln) and Sarah (Fiona Reid). Sarah’s husband, Reg (Derek Boyes) remains ignorant of his wife’s dalliance, but not as ignorant as Annie’s love, Tom (Oliver Dennis). Tom is more concerned about getting the pussy out of the tree than letting the cat out of the bag (revealing his love for Annie). Unlike its sibling-plays, which host these family events inside the home, Round and Round the Garden plays out on a patch of grass.
Farce requires room for low comedy, physical humour, and it doesn’t get much lower than rolling on the ground as Norman and his family often do. The set distinguishes Round and Round the Garden from its siblings. Theatre in the round offers the audience multiple perspectives echoing the nature of Ayckbourn’s trilogy—a story seen from different places and perspectives. The audience, literally a wallflower, replaces the flowers surrounding the garden. The spectators are like Norman, who hides in the shrubs that sit amongst the audience members.
The simple set, designed by Ken MacKenzie, makes the busy plot and boisterous characters pop. The muted garden houses cartoonish characters loudly dressed by designer, Patrick Clark: Norman in his two-sizes-too-big suit and Ruth in her blue dress, which contrast her fiery hair and temper.
The mixed emotions of these characters spark kissing—a lot of it. On several occasions the characters crawl and kiss on the ground, like Norman who chases Sarah for a smooch, or the climax when two couples awkwardly roll around kissing. In the round, the audience gets an optimal view of this mayhem.
Alone, Round and Round the Garden proves a good successful laugh and fierce farce, but watching the trilogy will undoubtedly enrich the cause of your laughter.
See Round and Round the Garden (and other plays of The Norman Conquests) at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 tank House Lane in Toronto’s Distillery District, from October 15 to November 16. Tickets are available online at www.soulpepper.ca or by phone at 416-866-8666.