It was in the spring of 1973 that British playwright Alan Ayckbourn wrote all three instalments of The Norman Conquests over the course of a week. The series follows the attempts of siblings Reg (Derek Boyes), Annie (Laura Condlln) and Ruth (Sarah Mennell) to have a civil weekend with their respective significant others: Sarah (Fiona Reid), Tom (Oliver Dennis), and Norman (Albert Schultz). While each of the three instalments follows the same course of events over one weekend, what differentiates them is that each one is set in a different room of the siblings’ house: Table Manners in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden in the garden. Soulpepper Theatre Company is currently mounting all three instalments as part of their current season, under the direction of Ted Dykstra.
Alan Ayckbourn is quoted in Paula Wing’s program notes as having said the plays can be seen in any order and that it’s “better to see all of them first.” It was Table Manners that provided my introduction into Ayckbourn’s world, and I had no trouble following the action of the piece, nor did I feel as though I was being cheated of important information having not seen either of the other two pieces. Meanwhile, the couple behind me was chatting away at intermission about how, having already seen Living Together, they were beginning to discover more complex layers of the characters’ relationships. At its core, this truly is a piece about familial and romantic relationships. While each character has a significant other present, not all of the romantic relationships are functional, and Annie is notably beginning to question where her loyalties lie.
Ayckbourn has developed each character extensively, creating six unique and distinguishable individuals that are played by a universally strong cast. It is Schultz as the titular character, however, that truly steals the show. The second scene in the first act is almost exclusively dedicated to Norman speaking, and Schultz’s energy and comedic timing allows him to carry the scene without fault.
The audience is seated in the round at Michael Young Theatre, meaning that all of the spectators sit in very close proximity to the stage and can fully appreciate the intricate details of Ken Mackenzie’s set.
My issue with Table Manners came towards the end, where a series of final vignettes between characters did not seem fully justified by the preceding action. Resolution, or lack thereof, seemed to come out of nowhere, and the ending of the piece was abrupt and unsatisfying. I can only assume that this would be resolved if I were to see the other two instalments. My curiosity has been peaked. While Table Manners functions well as a stand-alone piece, I do not believe that I will be able to fully understood the events that took place until I see all three sides of the story. It’s safe to say I will be back for more.
The Norman Conquests are playing at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts until November 16. Tickets $51-68, with $32 student tickets.